Howard Zinn, Author of People’s History, deceased.

January 28, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More

Back in the late 70’s I was profoundly moved when I read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. It was a critically important head-twisting contrast to the history that I had been taught in grade school and high school.  Howard Zinn died today at the age of 87.   Here is an excerpt of Amy Goodman’s interview of Howard Zinn in May, 2009 (video available at this same site):

You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?

And I think the answer is: we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her. And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history.

One of Zinn’s recurring themes is that we can’t depend on “the government” to lead us. We need always to carry the burden ourselves. Governing well is always self-governing.  howard_zinn

[Martin Luther] King believed—and this actually is one of the themes of our people’s history, is that you cannot depend on presidents, and you cannot depend on elections and voting to solve your problems. People themselves, organizing, demonstrating, clamoring, they are the only ones who can push the President and push Congress into change. And that’s what we have to do now with Obama. We have to point to what Obama said in the course of the campaign, when he said we not only have to get out of Iraq, we have to get out of the mindset that brought us into Iraq. Obama, himself, has not gotten out of that mindset yet. And I think we, the people, have to speak to him about that.

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Category: History, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. tina says:

    Thought provoking post, thanks.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Howard Zinn:

    "You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train."

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jill Lepore, writing at The New Yorker:

    "Zinn wanted to write a people’s history because he believed that a national history serves only to justify the existence of the nation, which means, mainly, that it lies, and if it ever tells the truth, it tells it too fast, racing past atrocity to dwell on glory. Zinn’s history did the reverse. Instead of lionizing Andrew Jackson, he mourned the Cherokee. The problem is that, analytically, upending isn’t an advance; it’s more of the same, only upside-down."

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/

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