Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Historian Howard Zinn died earlier this week at the age of 87.  Zinn’s most famous work was published in 1980 titled, A People’s History of the United States which is an account of history told from the perspective of the oppressed, or as Zinn later stated, “the slaughtered and the mutilated.”

Zinn, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, had a difficult life as a child, saying that his family moved often to “stay one step ahead of the landlord.”  In 1943, Zinn joined the Army Air Corps eager to “fight the facists” and became a decorated B-17 bombardier.

After returning from the war, Zinn went to college on the G.I. Bill and received his B.A. from New York University and later his M.A. and PhD from Columbia.  Howard Zinn went on to become a professor of history at Boston University, where he had tried on a couple of occassions to oust the conservative president of the University.

Interestingly, Zinn was on the faculty in the history department during the same time that conservative William Bennett (Sec. of Education under Reagan) was also teaching at Boston University.  Last year I had the opportunity to hear Bennett speak at the National Council for the Social Studies annual meeting and when asked if the two of them ever had any confrontations, Bennett replied that his time there “made for some interesting department meetings.”

A People’s History of the United States is still considered a radical perspective of history and Zinn never denied that is was a biased account saying he felt “people were hungry for a more different, more honest take.”

Zinn’s book is even mentioned in the movie Good Will Hunting starring Matt Damon, where Damon’s character references ‘People’s’ saying “that book will knock your socks off!”  Interestingly, Damon grew up in Boston not far from Zinn’s home and the two of them became friends.

Most recently Zinn had been working on his memoir which is to be titled, You Can’t Be Neutral On a Moving Train.

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