Skip to main content

Historian Howard Zinn dead at 87

A photo of Howard Zinn at Emerson college in 2008
A photo of Howard Zinn at Emerson college in 2008
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Doctor Howard Zinn died of a heart attack today at the age of 87. A well-beloved and frequently controversial figure, the author, historian, educator, and social-activist was best known for his tome, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. The unabashedly left-leaning telling of American history begins with vivid descriptions of the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the gruesome abuses they inflicted upon Native peoples. Skipping the well-known tales of American destiny, Zinn focused instead on the lesser-known epochs, the stories of the everyday people who struggled to build and mould their country.

Background

While serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, Zinn became disillusioned with the reality of warfare. After returning home, Zinn used his G.I. benefits to attended New York University and then Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in history in 1958. As chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, an all-black women’s school in segregated Atlanta, Zinn became a vocal participant in the Civil Rights Movement. Zinn spent the remainder of his academic career at Boston University before retiring in 1988. Since retiring, Zinn continued his work as a dedicated anti-war activist and a voice for social change.

Recent Works

This month, Zinn was awarded the 2010 New York University MLK Humanitarian Award.  Zinn was the author of more than 20 books, including a graphic history, A People’s History of American Empire, and a number of documentaries. His most recent documentary, The People Speak, was released in December.

 

Comments

  • Levi 4 years ago

    Great articles.

  • Greg 4 years ago

    Boston University not Boston College

  • owenband 4 years ago

    I just read your piece on Howard Zinn. I knew Howard for
    over thirty years. And I thought you would want to know he
    was a Professor at Boston University, not Boston College.

    Professor Zinn's classes were the most sought after on
    campus. By the time I arrived there in 1975, a rule was passed that freshman and sophomores could not enroll in his courses.
    One reason for his popularity was the fact that he did not
    believe in grades and gave everybody A's. The other reason
    was that he was a great teacher-passionate, knowledgeable
    and willing to accept various points of view.

    Howard sat on my thesis panel. And, this past year, I had the
    opportunity to visit with him and discuss a section of the memoir
    that I am currently working on.What I learned from him about
    U.S. history and life, will always be with me. Howard will be sorely missed.

  • carliejwagner 4 years ago

    Thanks for the correction. Owenband, thank you very much for sharing your experience. I can only imagine how great it would have been to be able to have worked so closely with him. It seems very apropo that he wouldn't believe in grades but it definitely made me chuckle to hear. I read A People's History right after graduating from high school and it nearly single-handedly led to my degree in American Studies. I don't think that I wrote a paper in my entire undergraduate career without citing Zinn somewhere. He definitely continues to influenced my education as I always tend to try to research the untold story.