Howard Zinn, Popular Historian, Dies

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Howard Zinn, activist, humanitarian, educator and author of the classic “A People’s History of the United States,” died of a heart attack yesterday, his family has confirmed.

He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass., but died while taking a swim in Santa Monica, Calif.

“A People’s History of the United States,” has sold more than 2 million copies worlwide, starting with a modest print run 20 years ago of a mere 4,000.

Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922 the son of Jewish immigrants. In his lifetime he flew bombers during WWII, and he fought for civil rights. It was only later that he became the popular historian that many will remember.

His book dealt with issues previously whitewashed or avoided by orthodox historians, such as Abraham Lincoln's racism, and Christopher Columbus as a maniacal genocidal killer. His heroines and heroes were the underdogs--those who fought slavery, agitated for the rights of the poor and for equality for women.

Zinn taught at Boston University for 20 years before retiring in 1989 and had legendary battles with BU's conservative president John Silber.

Zinn went to Thomas Jefferson High School and later earned a degree from New York University and then a master’s and doctorate from Columbia University. He also taught starting in 1956 at the all-women Spellman College, the Harvard of Historically Black Colleges. His students in the history department included Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.

His heroes were the underdogs--those who fought slavery, agitated for the rights of the poor and for equality for women. He grew up on an intellectual menu that included Karl Marx and Charles Dickens.

Among his books are “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) as well as “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968), both of which were critical of the war--he also wrote three plays.

His wife Roslyn Shechter died two years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn; a son, Jeff Zinn; and five grandchildren.

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