Thursday, January 28, 2010

UPDATED:Howard Zinn, Teacher R.I.P.


Howard Zinn has died suddenly of a heart attack in California. He was 87 years old. A tragic loss to the countless lives he touched and taught, and he remains relevant even now. The Boston Globe has a good obituary and gives a quote from his autobiography:
"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
Dr Zinn's last appearance on Democracy Now! was last May.
'I wish President Obama would listen carefully to Martin Luther King. I’m sure he pays verbal homage, as everyone does, to Martin Luther King, but he ought to think before he sends missiles over Pakistan, before he agrees to this bloated military budget, before he sends troops to Afghanistan, before he opposes the single-payer system, which you talked about earlier in your program. He ought to ask, “What would Martin Luther King do? And what would Martin Luther King say?” And if he only listened to King, he would be a very different president than he’s turning out to be so far. I think we ought to hold Obama to his promise to be different and bold and to make change. So far, he hasn’t come through on that promise.'
Talking about the A Young People’s History of the United States,
'...we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

'Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

'We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

'And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history. There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. They’re the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known. We have in this Young People’s History, we have a young hero who was sitting on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave the front of the bus. And that was before Rosa Parks. I mean, Rosa Parks is justifiably famous for refusing to leave her seat, and she got arrested, and that was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and really the beginning of a great movement in the South. But this fifteen-year-old girl did it first. And so, we have a lot of—we are trying to bring a lot of these obscure people back into the forefront of our attention and inspire young people to say, “This is the way to live.”'
And at the end of that program...he sure as hell wasn't neutral about war.[my emphasis]
AMY GOODMAN: I’m telling you, the great historian, you have five seconds.

HOWARD ZINN: If you want to end terrorism, you have to stop being terrorists, which is what war is.
Today, DN! pays hommage to Dr Zinn in it's program (link - the program will be up later, so check).


From the comments: Was Howard Zinn ever on Bill Moyers' Journal? Yes, in December, 2009.


Democracy Now!'s 'Howard Zinn (1922-2010): A Tribute to the Legendary Historian with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove'is here.


  1. A very nice obituary, Jay! I like how you pulled together information from different sources, and mostly how you call him a Teacher. Was Howard Zinn ever on Bill Moyers' Journal? He is Bill's kind, our kind.

    Now, I'm sad about JD Salinger, too. But tickled by your banner Saki quote. Love me some Saki, and that one seems to fit in nicely with your blog theme.

  2. I was having trouble with the video on the pBS site. But here's part 1 of Zinn's December 2009 appearance on Moyers:

    Part 2 and 3 can be found as well.


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