Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010

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Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was an award-winning historian, activist, playwright, teacher, public speaker and author of articles, essays and books including the best-selling A People's History of the United States. Praised for his moral courage and passion for social justice, Zinn influenced thousands of students during a teaching career of more than thirty years. Reaching the wider public through his books, plays, articles, lectures and in theatrical and television presentations of his Voices of A People's History and The People Speak, Zinn celebrated the lives of ordinary individuals engaged in the struggle for peace and justice, highlighting their often overlooked victories, and encouraging his audiences to engage as well.

Born on August 24, 1922, Howard Zinn was one of four sons of working-class Jewish immigrants Edward and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn. Growing up in Brooklyn, he held after school and summer jobs from the age of fourteen, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, and worked as an apprentice ship fitter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In early 1943, he joined the Army Air Corps, attaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. He trained as a bombardier and flew both combat and humanitarian missions in Europe. In 1944 he married Roslyn Shechter and, after the war, they lived in public housing and began raising a family while he attended New York University on the GI Bill and worked at a variety of menial jobs. Earning an undergraduate degree from NYU in 1951, Zinn continued his education at Columbia University, completing his MA in 1952 and PhD in 1958. In 1960-1961, he was a post-doctoral fellow in East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

After part-time lecturing in history and political science (1953-1956) at Upsala College in New Jersey, Zinn accepted a position at Spelman College in Atlanta as Chairman of the Department of History and Social Sciences (1956). During his seven years at Spelman, an all-black women's college, he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement – mentoring student activists, participating in sit-ins and other actions, advising the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and producing articles for publications such as The Nation and Harper's. His activism made him unpopular with the school's administration and, in 1963, he was dismissed. Forty-one years later, in 2005, Zinn was invited to give Spelman's commencement address and the school awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

In 1964 Zinn published two books focusing on the civil rights movement – SNCC: The New Abolitionists and The Southern Mystique —and also accepted a teaching position at Boston University.

His 24 years at BU were marked by overbooked classes and clashes with the administration, as well as teach-ins, strikes, debates, rallies and the writing of many articles, essays and books including two of particular note – Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967), one of the first to strongly condemn US actions in Vietnam, and A People's History of the Unites States (1980), his most popular work. Noam Chomsky describes this as "his enduring masterpiece", a book that communicates Zinn's "fundamental message about the crucial role of the people who remain unknown in carrying forward the endless struggle for peace and justice…"

Howard Zinn retired from Boston University in 1988. His relatively early retirement allowed him to concentrate on speaking and writing and to continue participating in demonstrations, protests, strikes and acts of civil disobedience which, on some occasions, resulted in his arrest. He spoke out against capital punishment and for improved prison conditions, expressed strong concerns about the environment and nuclear issues, consistently criticized US foreign policy in Central America and elsewhere, and was strongly opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In 2002, Harper Collins celebrated the sale of one million copies of A People's History of the United States with a New York City performance of readings based on the book. This was followed in 2004 by publication of Voices of a People's History of the United States in which Zinn and Anthony Arnove collected speeches, articles, essays, poetry and song lyrics by the individuals described in A People's History. Public performances of selections from Voices culminated in the production of a feature film, The People Speak, in 2009. The film features Zinn, along with well-known entertainers such as Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Viggo Mortensen, Marisa Tomei, Josh Brolin and Danny Glover. These performances, as well as references to Zinn in popular culture, including a mention in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, significantly increased the number of his readers and viewers. In 2008, the nonprofit Zinn Education Project was established to provide teaching materials based on Zinn's work to educators at the secondary school level insuring that his views on history, politics and social justice would continue to be introduced to young audiences.

Howard Zinn died on January 27, 2010. He and his wife Roslyn, who died in 2008, had two children, Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jeff Zinn, and five grandchildren. Zinn's life and work are described in his 1995 autobiography You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train which was released in 2004 as a documentary film of the same name.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Mitford, Jessica, 1917-1996. Papers, 1949-1973 (bulk 1961-1973). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Hayden, Tom. Tom Hayden papers, 1956-1964. University of Michigan
creatorOf Zinn, Howard, 1922-. The Colorado fuel and iron strike, 1913-1914. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Foley, Michael S. Michael S. Foley collection, 1965-2001. Swarthmore College, Peace Collection, SCPC
creatorOf Newton Free Library. Voice of Women Oral History Project 1961-2003, 2001-2002. Minuteman Library Network
referencedIn Walker, Alice, 1944-. Alice Walker papers, circa 1930-2010. Emory University Library, Special Collect Department
creatorOf Thom, James Alexander. Papers, 1973-2010. Indiana University
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Max Lerner papers, 1927-1998 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Duberman, Martin B. Martin B. Duberman papers, 1917-1997. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf McReynolds, David. David McReynolds papers, 1943-1978. Swarthmore College, Peace Collection, SCPC
referencedIn Sachs, Lynne. Investigations of a flame, 2001. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010. Papers, 1976-1977 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Piven, Frances Fox. Papers 1957-1999. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf Hayden, Tom. Papers, 1956-1964. University of Michigan
referencedIn Thomas J. Dodd Papers, undated, 1919-1971. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999, [Bulk Dates: 1968-1972]. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University Archives
referencedIn Guide to the Steve Nelson Papers, 1937-1991 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010. Papers, 1956-1994. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Salvador E. Luria Papers, 1923-1992 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010. Letter, 1964, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Columbia University. Archives. University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999 (Bulk dates 1968-1972). Nolan, Norton & Company, Incorporated
referencedIn Martin B. Duberman papers, 1917-1992 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Miller, William Robert, 1927-1970. William Robert Miller papers, [ca. 1960-1968]. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Center
referencedIn Antioch Review mss., 1940-2007 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn Lerner, Max, 1902-2001. Max Lerner papers, 1927-1992 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Tiyo Attallah Salah-El Papers MS 590., 1890-2006 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
referencedIn Sinsheimer, Joseph Andrew, 1962-. Papers, 1983. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Guide to the Howard Zinn Papers, 1901-2010 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Harris, S. Miller. S. Miller Harris papers, 1945-2003. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010. You can't be neutral on a moving train [sound recording] : education and activism / Howard Zinn. Sarah Lawrence College, Esther Raushenbush Library
referencedIn Indochina Peace Campaign (Organization : U.S.). Indochina Peace Campaign records, 1940-1976 (bulk 1972-1975). Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Horace Mann Bond Papers, 1830-1979, 1926-1972 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abu-Jamal, Mumia person
associatedWith Ahmad, Eqbal person
associatedWith American Association of University Professors. corporateBody
associatedWith American Civil Liberties Union. corporateBody
associatedWith Antioch review. corporateBody
associatedWith Berrigan, Daniel person
associatedWith Berrigan, Philip person
associatedWith Bond, Horace Mann, 1904-1972 person
associatedWith Boudin, Kathy person
associatedWith Chomsky, Noam. person
associatedWith Columbia University. Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Columbia University. Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Dodd, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph), 1907-1971 person
associatedWith Duberman, Martin B person
associatedWith Duberman, Martin B. person
associatedWith Ellsberg, Daniel. person
associatedWith Foley, Michael S. person
associatedWith Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940 person
associatedWith Harris, S. Miller. person
associatedWith Hayden, Tom. person
associatedWith Hayden, Tom. person
associatedWith Indochina Peace Campaign (Organization : U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Lerner, Max, 1902- person
associatedWith Lerner, Max, 1902-2001. person
associatedWith Luria, S. E., (Salvador Edward), 1912-1991 person
associatedWith Lynd, Staughton. person
associatedWith Marx, Karl, 1818-1883 person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith McReynolds, David. person
associatedWith Miller, William Robert, 1927-1970. person
associatedWith Mitford, Jessica, 1917-1996. person
associatedWith Nelson, Steve, 1903- person
associatedWith Newton Free Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 person
associatedWith Piven, Frances Fox person
associatedWith Piven, Frances Fox. person
associatedWith Sachs, Lynne. person
associatedWith Salah-El, Tiyo Attallah person
associatedWith Sarah Lawrence College. corporateBody
associatedWith Silber, John, 1926- person
associatedWith Sinsheimer, Joseph Andrew, 1962- person
associatedWith Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Thom, James Alexander. person
associatedWith United States. Central Intelligence Agency. corporateBody
associatedWith Vonnegut, Kurt person
associatedWith Walker, Alice, 1944- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Santa Monica CA US
New York City NY US
Draft resisters
Iraq War, 2003
Peace movements
Political participation
Progressive education
Race relations in the United States
War resistance movements
Social action
Social action
Trials (Political crimes and offenses)
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Academic freedom
Afghan War, 2001
African Americans
Antinuclear movement
Anti-war demonstrations
Civil disobedience
Civil rights


Birth 1922-08-24

Death 2010-01-27




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