le_redacteur | Monday October 19th, 2009
Howard Zinn (born August 24, 1922) is an American historian, political scientist, social critic, activist, playwright, and Democratic Socialist intellectual, best known as author of the bestseller A People’s History of the United States.
Zinn has been active in the movements for Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and the anti-war movements in the United States. He has written extensively on all three subjects.
The author of some 20 books, Zinn is Professor Emeritus in the Political Science Department at Boston University. He lives in the Auburndale neighborhood of Newton, Massachusetts.
Zinn was Professor of History at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia from 1956 to 1963. Later he was Professor of Political Science, Boston University from 1964 to 1988. He is the Visiting Professor at both the University of Paris and University of Bologna
Civil Rights movement
In 1956, Zinn was appointed chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement. For example, Zinn lobbied with historian August Meier “to end the practice of the Southern Historical Association of holding meetings at segregated hotels.
At Spelman, Zinn served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and, in 1964, later wrote the book SNCC: The New Abolitionists.
At Spelman, Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored young student activists, among them writer Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. In a journal article, Edelman discusses Zinn as major influence in her life and she tells of his accompanying students to a sit-in at the segregated white section of the Georgia state legislature.
Although Zinn was a tenured professor, he was dismissed, in June 1963, after siding with students in their desire to challenge Spelman’s traditional emphasis of turning out “young ladies” when, as Zinn described in an article in The Nation, Spelman students were likely to be found on the picket line, or in jail for participating in the greater effort to break down segregation in public places in Atlanta. Zinn’s years at Spelman are recounted in his autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times. His seven years at Spelman College, Zinn said, “are probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me.”
While at Spelman, Zinn wrote that he observed 30 violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution in Albany, Georgia, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equal protection of the laws. In an article on the civil rights movement in Albany, Zinn described the people who participated in the Freedom Rides to end segregation, and of the reluctance of President John F. Kennedy to enforce the law. Zinn has also pointed out that the Justice Department under Robert F. Kennedy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, did little to nothing to stop the segregationists from brutalizing civil rights workers.
Zinn wrote frequently about the struggle for civil rights, both as a participant and historian. His second book, The Southern Mystique was published in the same year as his book on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), 1964. In the book on SNCC, Zinn describes how the sit-ins against segregation were initiated by students and, in that sense, independent of the older, more established civil rights organizations.
He returned to Spelman in 2005 to give the commencement address.His speech “Against Discouragement,” is available online at numerous sources.
A People’s History of the United States
As a historian, Zinn came to believe that the point of view expressed in traditional history books was often limited. He wrote a history textbook, A People’s History of the United States, with the goal to provide other perspectives of American history. The textbook depicts the struggles of Native Americans against European and U.S. conquest and expansion, slaves against slavery, unionists and other workers against capitalists, women against patriarchy, and African-Americans for civil rights.
In the years since the first edition of A People’s History was published in 1980, it has been used as an alternative to standard textbooks in many high school and college history courses, and is one of the most widely known examples of critical pedagogy. According to the New York Times Book Review it “routinely sells more than 100,000 copies a year”.
In 2004, Zinn published Voices of A People’s History of the United States with Anthony Arnove. Voices expands on the concept and provides a large collection of dissident voices in long form. The book is intended as a companion to A People’s History and parallels its structure.