WBUR

Howard Zinn: Lessons from History

BOSTON — Author, liberal, political activist and longtime Boston University historian Howard Zinn has died.

Zinn suffered a heart attack while traveling in California on Wednesday. He was 87.

Zinn gained widespread fame for his 1980 book, “A People’s History of the United States”. It celebrated not the usual heroes of American history, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but instead union organizers and farmers.

The book was recently adapted into a History Channel television series called “The People Speak”, featuring stars like Matt Damon, Benjamin Bratt, and Tim Robbins.

In an interview with WBUR last year, Howard Zinn reflected on the lessons Americans should take from history.

During Shays’ rebellion, Western Massachusetts farmers rose up because they couldn’t afford high taxes and were losing their farms.

Zinn: Capt. Daniel Shays, a veteran of the Revolution, gave his name to the rebellion, but it was a rebellion of thousands and thousands. They surrounded the courthouses, wouldn’t allow the farms and land to be auctioned off.

We could learn from that history, because people are being foreclosed, they’re losing their homes. Instead of waiting for the president and Congress to act, who are very slow to act and who are not going to really represent the interests of these poor people or even middle class people who are evicted from homes. People should be organizing, doing what citizens have done, doing what democracy requires to prevent these evictions from taking place.

In that interview, Zinn also spoke about the link between his “People’s History” and a healthy democracy.

Zinn: One of the advantages of a different kind of history, of students learning the history of working people and of rebels and dissenters and black slaves and Native Americans who are protesting their situation, is it is encouraging to young people. It creates citizens instead of subjects. It’s strange that here we are in the United States, we consider ourselves a democracy. But in a democracy, you don’t simply pay homage to the president. In a democracy, citizens gather and they organize. And they make history.

Zinn joined the Boston University faculty in the mid-1960s and retired in 1988 to focus on writing and speaking.

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