Historian Howard Zinn Remembered

Professor, author and political activist Howard Zinn, whose book A People's History of the United States sold more than 1 million copies and celebrated the historical contributions of feminists and workers and people of color, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 87.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington. Professor, author and political activist Howard Zinn died yesterday. Considered the people's historian, Zinn's book, "A People's History of the United States," was unabashedly leftist. It celebrated the historical contribution of feminists, workers and people of color when other books did not. It also sold a million copies. NPR's Allison Keyes has this remembrance.

ALLISON KEYES: Reviewers of Howard Zinn's work often used the word radical to describe his view of history. One critic called him a model of the academic as activist, but Zinn's close friend, retired MIT professor Noam Chomsky, says Zinn changed the conscience of a generation.

Mr.�NOAM CHOMSKY (Former Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): He studied what he called the countless small actions of unknown people that lead to the great moments that enter the historical record. That's a shift in perspective and understanding which is quite profound and quite significant.

KEYES: Howard Zinn told NPR in 2003 he felt there were important things missing from history books, and America's young people were getting an inadequate education. Zinn said those who accused him of rewriting history to reflect a liberal agenda were absolutely right because history had previously been written from the point of view of the powerful.

Mr.�HOWARD ZINN (Author, "A People's History of the United States"): And yes, I want to change that history so that people can get an idea of what ordinary people have suffered and what ordinary people have done to change their lives.

KEYES: Zinn was born in New York in 1922 into a Jewish immigrant family. After a teenage violent brush with police during a communist rally, Zinn joined the Army during World War II. He later wrote that his combat experience has crystallized his anti-war activism.

By the mid-1950s, Zinn was chair of the history department at Atlanta's historically black Spellman College. It is there that he met civil rights activist and NAACP chairman Julian Bond.

Mr.�JULIAN BOND (Chairman, NAACP): In addition to an enormous loss for the country and for the profession of history, we've lost a great, great friend.

KEYES: Bond says he worked with Zinn at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as the sit-in movement began. Bond says not only did Zinn chronicle the contributions of working people and women, he made it acceptable and mandatory for other historians to do the same.

Mr.�BOND: Someone like Rosa Parks gets her say in his history. It's not just Martin Luther King saying, hey, let's boycott these buses. It's Rosa Parks providing the spark for it. And you just go along through the course of American history, it's these forgotten people who did so much at a time when no one else seemed to step up.

Mr.�DAVID HOROWITZ (Author): There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect.

KEYES: Conservative pundit and author David Horowitz is among critics who fiercely disagree with Zinn's politics. Horowitz calls "A People's History of the United States" a travesty.

Mr.�HOROWITZ: Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse.

KEYES: But Zinn's supporters say the former Boston University professor has a powerful legacy, and Zinn himself told the online think tank bigthink.com in 2008:

Mr.�ZINN: I want to be remembered as somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power they didn't have before.

KEYES: Howard Zinn died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 87 years old. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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