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.
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.
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.