Voices of a People’s History
Traditional history is dominated by generals, presidents, and other so-called important people. When we read in standard texts about the sinking of the Spanish Armada, we learn King Philip wept. Oral historian Studs Terkel asks, “Were there no other tears?” Historians have difficulty matching the eloquence of those who experienced events firsthand such as soldiers at war, the survivors of massacre and genocide, and those who fought oppression. When they tell their own story, history is not only different, but authentic. An all-star cast including John Sayles, Wally Shawn, and Paul Robeson Jr. join Zinn in this engaging two-part program recorded at the NY Society for Ethical Culture before a capacity audience.
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 masterwork, A People’s History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. Among his many books are A Power Governments Cannot Suppress and Original Zinn with David Barsamian. Just 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, Howard Zinn, friend and teacher, passed away on January 27, 2010. His words inspire many the world over, “We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. To live now, as human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”