R.I.P. Howard Zinn

“R.I.P. Howard Zinn. The People will continue to make history”     –Talib Kweli

HOWARD ZINN, an activist and author for half a century and probably the best-known voice of the U.S. left, died January 27 at the age of 87.

Howard was a fixture of countless struggles for justice and equality in the U.S. over many long decades. He was as determined in his 80s as he was many years before as a witness and participant in the great battles of the civil rights movement and the fight against the Vietnam War.

Howard is best remembered for the book A People’s History of the United States, which taught millions about the hidden tradition of protest, resistance and rebellion in America. A People’s History has sold over 2 million copies–it’s almost unique in the publishing world for continuously selling more copies each year than it did the year before.

The words that end Howard’s autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, are the best tribute to his extraordinary life:

“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.”

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Categories: Book Review, Political History, Political Theory

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