Remembering Howard Zinn
Historian, author and activist Howard Zinn passed away yesterday at age 87, of a heart attack.
I interviewed Zinn for the DPD last February. He was promoting his then-new movie “The People Speak.” In it, actors and musicians (we’re talking like Springsteen-level performers, which should give you an idea of the kind of esteem in which this frail octagenarian was held) sing songs and read historic documents celebrating the struggles of workers, disillusioned soldiers, minorities, the poor and the otherwise disenfranchised. The kind of people who, in Zinn’s view, have been the real engines of freedom and change in America.
I remember right before the interview I told a co-worker that I was about to speak with the famous Howard Zinn. “Oh, that old crackpot?” he said, smirking. So yeah, Zinn’s ideas weren’t exactly universally embraced. To some his views seemed naive or overly simplistic, and in the interview I felt compelled to ask if his old-school activist methods were outmoded in the modern era. Even so, as a WWII vet and a forceful participant in the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, he was undeniably a man who’d earned his view of history the hard way — he’d lived it. He was also, at his age, sharp as a tack.
Zinn was obviously proud of “the People Speak,” and most of what DPD listeners heard of that interview concerned the movie. But we had to leave out some of the most interesting stuff: Zinn’s reflections on his nascent activism, about witnessing the election of America’s first black president, and about the autographed baseball he got from Sandy Koufax.
Here’s all that stuff. RIP.