Howard Zinn on Race
Howard Zinn on Race is Zinn’s choice of the shorter writings and speeches that best reflect his views on America’s most taboo topic. As chairman of the history department at all-black women’s Spelman College, Zinn was an outspoken supporter of student activists in the nascent civil rights movement. In “The Southern Mystique,” he tells of how he was asked to leave Spelman in 1963 after teaching there for seven years.
“Behind every one of the national government’s moves toward racial equality,” writes Zinn in one 1965 essay, “lies the sweat and effort of boycotts, picketing, beatings, sit-ins, and mass demonstrations.” He firmly believed that bringing people of different races and nationalities together would create a more compassionate world, where equality is a given and not merely a dream. These writings, which span decades, express Zinn’s steadfast belief that the people have the power to change the status quo, if they only work together and embrace the nearly forgotten American tradition of civil disobedience and revolution.
In clear, compassionate, and present prose, Zinn gives us his thoughts on the Abolitionists, the march from Selma to Montgomery, John F. Kennedy, picketing, sit-ins, and, finally, the message he wanted to send to New York University students about race in a speech he delivered during the last week of his life.
Introduction by Cornel West.
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, was perhaps this country’s premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay, as he once told me, “one step ahead of the landlord.” After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He taught at Spelman, the all-black women’s college in Atlanta. He was an active figure in the civil rights movement and served on the board of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was fired by Spelman for his activism. He was among the first to oppose U.S. aggression in Indochina. His book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was an instant classic. A principled opponent of imperialism and militarism, he was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience. He spoke and marched against the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. His masterpiece, A People’s History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. Among his many other books are You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian and Original Zinn with David Barsamian. Shortly before his death he completed his last great project, the documentary The People Speak. Always ready to lend a hand, he believed in and practiced solidarity. Witty, erudite, generous and loved by many the world over, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010. He would say, Don’t mourn. Get active. The struggle for peace and justice continues.