Timothy McCarthy publishes lengthy Zinn defense on "Daily Beast"Historians in the News
Timothy Patrick McCarthy teaches history, literature, and public policy at Harvard University, where he also directs the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. An award-winning scholar, teacher, and activist, he is editor of The Indispensable Zinn: The Essential Writings of the "People’s Historian" published by the New Press. He is also author of Protest Nation: Words That Inspired a Century of American Radicalism.
Howard Zinn would have been 90 years old on Aug. 24. Widely and affectionately known as “the people’s historian” during his lifetime, he was a prolific scholar and prodigious activist. To many of us, myself included, he was also a mentor and friend. He taught us all. Few historians write and make history, and for more than half a century, Howard Zinn did both....
His optimism was firmly rooted in and shaped by his own life experiences. For Howard, the personal and political were always deeply intertwined with the historical. Born in Brooklyn in 1922 to hardworking Jewish immigrant parents, Howard was the product of a modest upbringing in which he was exposed early on to the everyday struggles of laboring people. As a young man coming of age during the Great Depression, Howard was deeply influenced by the protest literature of Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and John Steinbeck. When he was 18, he began working in a naval shipyard. In his celebrated memoir, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, he described this experience as “three years working on the docks, in the cold and heat, amid deafening noise and poisonous fumes, building battleships and landing ships in the early years of the Second World War.” In 1943, having just turned 21, he enlisted in the Air Force and flew bomber missions in Europe, an experience that would later lead him to question the morality of war. Indeed, his subsequent antiwar activism—which reached a fever pitch during the Vietnam era and continued through the contemporary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—was deeply informed by the feelings of regret he had from being a bombardier. After the war, Howard went to New York University and Columbia University on the GI Bill (he liked to brag that he “never paid a cent” for his education). While a graduate student in American history, he worked the night shift in a warehouse and taught part-time day and evening classes at several nearby schools to make ends meet. Newly married, Howard lived with his wife, Roz, and two small children in a housing project in lower Manhattan while he wrote his Columbia dissertation, a well-regarded study of Fiorello LaGuardia, whose legendary congressional career during the 1910s and 1920s was, Howard argued, “an astonishingly accurate preview of the New Deal.” In 1956, before completing his doctorate, Howard secured a faculty position at Spelman College in Atlanta, where he taught a number of remarkable black women, including Alice Walker, the award-winning writer and activist, and Marian Wright (later Edelman), the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. His seven years at Spelman—he was fired for “insubordination” in 1963 because of his activism—coincided with the emergence of the black freedom struggle in the South. The rest, we might say, is history. Howard’s deep involvement with movement work inspired a lifelong commitment to civil rights and racial and socioeconomic justice. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the leading voices of opposition to the Vietnam War; in 1967 he called for the “immediate withdrawal” of troops from Vietnam. From 1964 to his retirement in 1988, Howard was a professor of political science at Boston University, where he earned a reputation—richly deserved—as a beloved teacher, a prolific scholar, and first-class troublemaker....
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