Farewell, Howard Zinn

Those who work for justice in America and around the world have lost a courageous standard bearer in Howard Zinn who died this week at the age of 87.  Professor of history, peace advocate and civil rights activist, Zinn’s legacy lives on in a wealth of material to guide us in our struggles for human rights.

Zinn wrote, “I see this as the central issue of our time: how to find a substitute for war in human ingenuity, imagination, courage, sacrifice, patience.”

Among his many books, Zinn authored, “A People’s History of the United States,” which tells the story from the perspective of the vanquished.  For example in this book, you’ll read the truth about how Christopher Columbus treated the indigenous people of Haiti when he “discovered” the New World.

You’ll be inspired by Zinn’s life and work. You can watch a tribute to him that was aired January 28 on Democracy Now, and learn more about him in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” or watch the documentary of the same name.

Check out the documentary, “The People Speak” aired in December 2009 on the History Channel and will be available on DVD February 22. “Narrated by Howard Zinn and based on his bestselling book, A People’s History of the United States, and Voices of a People’s History, this groundbreaking documentary film illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today, reminding us that democracy is not a spectator sport and to never take liberty for granted.”

Zinn remained an outspoken advocate of social justice throughout his life. In The Nation magazine, February 1, 2010 issue, Zinn comments about President Obama’s first year in office were published. He wrote:

“I’ ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama’s rhetoric; I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

“As far as disappointments, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I didn’t expect that much…I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president–which means, in our time, a dangerous president–unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Zinn taught at Spelman College from 1956 until 1963 when he was fired for insubordination for supporting civil rights and student activism.  In his 2005 commencement address at Spelman Collge, Zinn said,

“My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself—whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist — you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.”

This is a hope that I share with all my heart. Thank you, Howard, for your unwavering courage to speak truth to power and to keep hoping that the best in the human spirit will prevail.

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