Howard Zinn, the historian and Boston University professor whose book A People’s History of the United States has taken its place as an alternative view of American history, died of a heart attack on January 26 in
Santa Monica, where he was visiting. He was 87.
Zinn had been scheduled to appear at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on February 4, to air and discuss his new video A Collection of Ideas….Howard Zinn: The People Speak. The video originally aired on the History Channel in December.
The 1980 A People’s History recounted American history through the experience of ordinary people, farmers, union organizers, and other activists. The book became a touchstone for progressives and has sometimes been used as a text by teachers.
The book received some mainstream attention after it was referenced in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. In the film, Will (Matt Damon), a working-class math whiz, mentions the book to his therapist. Damon, growing up in Boston, had lived next door to Zinn.
Howard Zinn was born in New York City in 1922. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and during that time married Roslyn Schecter, who died in 2008. After the war, he worked at a series of jobs while putting himself through college at New York University and Columbia.
He taught history at Upsala College, Brooklyn College, and the historically black women’s Spelman College, where one of his students was author Alice Walker. In 1964 he became an associate professor of political science at Boston University and in 1966 became a full time professor.
His involvement with protests against the Vietnam War led to the publication of two books: Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) and Disobedience and Democracy (1968). In 1968, he also went to Vietnam with Reverend Daniel Berrigan to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.
Other books by Zinn include The Politics of History (1970); Postwar America (1973); Justice in Everyday Life (1974); and Declarations of Independence (1990).
Zinn is survived by his daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn, his son Jeff Zinn, three granddaughters, and two grandsons.
According to officials at the Santa Monica Museum, the scheduled video screening on February 4 will become a tribute event. Details are currently being finalized. For more information call 310.586.6488.