Growing up in an immigrant, working-class family in Brooklyn, Zinn became a shipyard worker at 18, later joining the air force and flying a bomber during the second world war. His experiences shaped his opposition to war, and on his return he took a PhD in history at Columbia University, later working with civil rights movement activists including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman, and leading antiwar protests. Professor emeritus at Boston University, Zinn received a host of honours, most recently the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr Humanitarian award from New York University for embodying "a vision of peace, persistence in purpose, and inspirational action" [The Guardian].
Howard Zinn was a founder of the Zinn Education project, which promotes the teaching of A People's History in schools throughout America. Moreover, he was a leading member of Voices a education, arts and social justice organization, which aims to encourage civic engagement and to further history education by bringing the history of the US to life through public readings of primary-source materials. Voices works to remind people of the eloquence of ordinary people, as well as extraordinary and well-known figures from the American history.
In 2002, his autobiography, "You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train", was published and the words that end the book are probably the best tribute:
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of the world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.R.I.P. Howard Zinn! Many people paid tribute to the legendary historian. Check out the following:
Thank You, Howard Zinn (The Progressive)
The people's historian (Socialist Worker)
Howard Zinn's lesson to us all (The Guardian)
Voices of A People's History
A tribute with Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein and Anthony Arnove (Democracy Now!)
Interviews: TVXS.gr, Conversations with History
A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn