Friday Video: Happy Birthday Howard Zinn

Today would have been Howard Zinn’s birthday. The historian, activist, playwright, anti-racist, veteran, and advocate for peace and civil disobedience passed away in 2010. He is best known for his book A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, a detailed look at American history highlighting the voices and stories of those typically excluded from history books. He believed in the importance of oral history and community organizing and in the absolute necessity of a deeper understanding of history as whole. His life influenced countless people, calling members of humanity live lives focused on freedom and peace for all.


Below we’ve included a few quotes for pondering and two clips from his autobiography You Can Be Neautal on a Moving Train, which was released in 2004.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacri?ce, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an in?nite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in de?ance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
From the book A Power Governments Can Not Suppress. 

“Everything in history once it happens looks as if it had to happen exactly that way. We can’t imagine any other. But I am convinced of the uncertainty of history, of the possibility of surprise, of the importance of human action in changing what looks unchangeable.”  From the book A Power Governments Can Not Suppress. 

From the film You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, speaking about his time in the Air Force and the circumstances which lead him to adopting non-violence.


Also from the film, speaking about the act of civil disobedience and its implications.

Additional resources:

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Zinn Bio

Zinn Education Project

Tell us what Howard Zinn means to you. We’d love to hear your thoughts.