Photo credit: Robin Holland
Photo: Robin Holland

Howard Zinn


Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was an American historian, author, activist, playwright and professor. Zinn published his groundbreaking work, A People’s History of the United States, in 1980. The Library Journal called it “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories.”

The book, which has sold more than two million copies, has been featured on The Sopranos and The Simpsons, and in the film Good Will Hunting. In 2009, The History Channel aired The People Speak, an acclaimed documentary co-directed by Zinn and based on A People’s History and a companion volume, Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Zinn grew up in Brooklyn, the child of working-class immigrants. As the United States prepared to enter World War II he became a shipyard worker, but later signed up to fly as an Air Force bombardier, an experience that would later shape his opposition to war and approach to history. After attending college under the GI Bill and earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, in 1956 he moved with his wife and children to Atlanta to become chairman of the history department at Spelman College. As a participant-observer in the founding activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he spent time in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and became active in the civil rights movement.

For his activities and support of student protesters, Spelman fired Zinn. He then became a professor of political science at Boston University, where he taught until his retirement in 1988.

Zinn was the author of many books including an autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, the play Marx in Soho and Passionate Declarations. He received the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Eugene V. Debs award for his writing and political activism.