By the time I had heard of Howard Zinn, his book “A People’s History of the United States” was already a classic. He retold US history from the perspective of the people who shaped this country without massive amounts of money and political clout (google Eugene V. Debs). He wrote a new text book that proved that history wasn’t objective. Even when you tell the facts, you choose which facts frame history.
His book got me to question history. High school had taught me the model citizen version of history, where anyone can be president and presidents were always good people even if they owned slaves and killed Native Americans, and nothing much happened after the Reconstruction. “A People’s History of the United States” exposed me to the labor organizing, mass movement version of history where socialism seemed like a really good idea. And it inspired me to ask, even in this people’s version of US history, where are all the people of color? (The search eventually led me to Takaki’s “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America”.)
Zinn didn’t just write about social movements, either. From joining the civil rights movement, to the anti-Vietnam war movement, and through his teaching career, he took it to the streets.
He died earlier today, from an apparent heart attack.