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Howard Zinn Poster

Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 24 August 1922Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 27 January 2010Santa Monica, California, USA  (heart attack)
Height 6' 1½" (1.87 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Howard Zinn, the author of the best seller "A People's History of the United States", is a historian, political scientist and social activist well-known for his involvement in progressive causes. Zinn was born on August 24, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of immigrant Jewish parents. During the early years of World War Two, Zinn worked as a defense industry worker in the Brooklyn shipyards and became a labor union organizer. He subsequently served as a bombardier in U.S. Army Air Force's 490th Bomb Group, which conducted bombing missions in Europe. Zinn came to question the value of the strategic bombing of France and Germany, which caused millions of civilian casualties.

After the war, Zinn too his B.A. in history at New York University and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. His doctoral dissertation on Fiorello LaGuardia's career as a Congressman was published as "LaGuardia in Congress" by the Cornell University Press. Zinn's book concluded that LaGuardia's progressive political platform "was an astonishingly accurate preview of the New Deal."

In 1956, Zinn was appointed chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, a woman's college in Atlanta, Georgia that served African American women. Zinn joined the faculty two years after the Supreme Court had outlawed segregation in education with its Brown v. Board of Education decision. The home of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Atlanta was one of the centers of the modern Civil Rights movement, and many of his students became involved in pushing for an end to segregation and for equality under the law for African Americans.

Zinn has recollected that he began to question the traditional interpretations of American history when he was required to teach his African American students from books which ignored the true experiences of black folk in America. He realized that the "official" histories of the United States during that Cold War period had little connection to the reality of life as lived by ordinary people in the United States. It opened his eyes to the gulf between the socially sanctioned histories and the reality of the experiences of ordinary American citizens, particularly those of color and dissidents.

Zinn said that while he at Spelman, he observed 30 violations of the rights of students under the First and Fourteenth amendment rights in protests in Atlanta. The police abridged the student protesters' freedoms of speech, of assembly and of equal protection under the laws. Zinn's intellectual and spiritual development would transform him into a radical and progressive historian, part of a new class of intellectuals who began to give voice to those who were not heard from in official historiographies.

Despite being a tenured professor, Zinn was dismissed in June 1963 after siding with students in their desire to challenge Spelman's traditional emphasis of turning out "young ladies". Many of the Spellman students were involved in civil rights protests, and Zinn, or course, was encouraging this venue of political expression. In 1964, he joined the political science faculty at Boston University, where he taught until 1988 and where he currently maintains an office as professor emeritus. B.U.'s political science department was dominated by progressives and leftists. It was during his first decade at B.U. that Zinn became known as a vocal critic of war, and of the Vietnam War in particular. Zinn had come to the conclusion that warfare was wrong, and that nonviolent resistance was the answer to aggression.

Zinn was involved in one of the seminal moments in the domestic opposition to the Vietnam War, the "Pentagon Papers" case, when Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the papers, entrusted a copy of them with Zinn. Zinn's publishing house, the Beacon Press, published what has come to be known as the Senator Gravel edition of "The Pentagon Papers", four volumes of Pentagon documents plus a fifth containing an analysis by Zinn and and Noam Chomsky. Zinn was called by the defense as an expert witness at Ellsberg's criminal trial for conspiracy and espionage in connection with the publication of the "Pentagon Papers" by the "The New York Times". Zinn testified that "...there was nothing in the papers of military significance that could be used to harm the defense of the United States" but that they were embarrassing to the United States government, which had blundered into Vietnam and had tried to cover up the hopelessness of the situation. The case against Ellsberg was dismissed it on the grounds that it had been prejudiced by the burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office under the direction of the Richard Nixon administration.

As a historian, Zinn - dismayed by the point of view expressed in traditional history books - published his most famous work (and a watershed in American historiography), "A People's History of the United States", in 1980 to provide other perspectives on American history. The text depicts the struggles of Native Americans against the European and American conquests of their land, of slaves against slavery, of unionists and labor against capitalists, of women against patriarchy, of allegedly "free" African-Americans against racism and for civil rights, and of others who were disenfranchised and whose stories are not often told in mainstream histories. A classic of populist history, "A People's History" has been assigned reading both as a high school and college textbook. The most widely known example of critical pedagogy, "A People's History" sold its one millionth copy in 2003.

Howard Zinn currently resides in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Roslyn. The couple have two children, Myla and Jeff, and five grandchildren. In addition to his histories, Zinn is a playwright: His first play, "Daughter of Venus", was produced in 1985, and his most famous play, "Emma", based on the life of anarchist Emma Goldman, has been staged five times since its initial production in 1986. His most recent play, "Marx in Soho" (1999), is still being performed in small theaters throughout the United States.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Roslyn Zinn (1944 - 2008) (her death) (2 children)

Trivia (6)

Zinn and his book, "A People's History of the United States, " are mentioned by Matt Damon's character (Will Hunting) in Good Will Hunting (1997).
Son Jeff (b. 1950) is the director of Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. [2000]
In the spring of 2003, to commemorate the sale of the one millionth copy of "A People's History of the United States", a dramatic reading from the book was held at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The reading featured Danny Glover, Andre Gregory, James Earl Jones, actress Myla Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Alice Walker (herself a former student of Zinn's at Atlanta's Spelman College), Alfre Woodard, Harris Yulin, and Howard's son Jeff Zinn, the artistic director of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. Howard Zinn as narrator. The event was aired on Democracy Now!, hosted by Amy Goodman, and is online at the Democracy Now web site. The program was also released as a book and CD under the title "The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known."
Zinn's autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train", was made into the documentary film Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (2004), by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller. The film includes footage of Howard and Roslyn Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Marian Wright Edelman, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker. The 78-minute film on DVD includes these special features: On Human Nature and Aggression; his speech at Veterans for Peace Conference, 2004; and audio of his 1971 speech at the Boston Common on Civil Disobedience. The film is narrated by actor Matt Damon; when Damon was a child, his family moved next door to the Zinns in West Newton, Massachusetts, and became friends (the Zinns occasionally babysat the Damon boys). Damon included a reference to A People's History in his film Good Will Hunting, and read the latter half of People's History for an audiobook released February 1, 2003 ( ISBN 0060530065).
Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" was referenced in a Columbus Day episode of the TV show The Sopranos (1999).
Words of remembrance were written by MIT's linguistics professor Noam Chomsky for "Time" magazine's Milestones section (Issue: February 22, 2010).

Personal Quotes (4)

I am hopeful. But hope rests on doing something. If you're not doing anything to change things, you have no right to be hopeful.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
[2002 - On the United States decision to wage war on Iraq after 9/11] We certainly should not be initiating a war, as it's not a clear and present danger to the United States, or in fact, to anyone around it. If it were, then the states around Iraq would be calling for a war on it. The Arab states around Iraq are opposed to the war, and if anyone's in danger from Iraq, they are. At the same time, the U.S. is violating the U.N. charter by initiating a war on Iraq. Bush made a big deal about the number of resolutions Iraq has violated-and it's true, Iraq has not abided by the resolutions of the Security Council. But it's not the first nation to violate Security Council resolutions. Israel has violated Security Council resolutions every year since 1967. Now, however, the U.S. is violating a fundamental principle of the U.N. Charter, which is that nations can't initiate a war-they can only do so after being attacked. And Iraq has not attacked us.
Let's talk about socialism. I think it's very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million people reading socialist newspapers around the country. Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism.

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