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Howard Zinn: The People’s Historian

Posted on Feb 2, 2010

By Amy Goodman

Howard Zinn, legendary historian, author and activist, died last week at the age of 87. His most famous book is “A People’s History of the United States.” Zinn told me last May, “The idea of ‘A People’s History’ is to go beyond what people have learned in school ... history through the eyes of the presidents and the generals in the battles fought in the Civil War, [to] the voices of ordinary people, of rebels, of dissidents, of women, of black people, of Asian-Americans, of immigrants, of socialists and anarchists and troublemakers of all kinds.”

It is fitting to write of Zinn’s life at the start of Black History Month. Although he was white, he wrote eloquently of the civil rights struggle and was a part of that movement as well. Fifty years ago, on Feb. 1, 1960, four black students entered the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., and sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter. They were refused service, and returned day after day. Each day, more and more people came with them. The lunch-counter desegregation movement spread to other Southern cities. By July, the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter was desegregated. This week, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened at the site of that original lunch-counter protest.

At the time of the sit-ins, Zinn was a professor at Spelman College, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta. He told me why, after seven years there, he was fired: “The students at Spelman College rose up out of that very tranquil and controlled atmosphere at the college during the sit-ins and went into town, got arrested, they came back fired up and determined to change the conditions of their lives on campus. ... I supported them in their rebellion, and I was too much for the administration of the college.” Zinn wrote in the afterword of “A People’s History”: “It was not until I joined the faculty of Spelman College ... that I began to read the African-American historians who never appeared in my reading lists in graduate school. Nowhere in my history education had I learned about the massacres of black people that took place again and again, amid the silence of a national government pledged, by the Constitution, to protect equal rights for all.”

One of his students at Spelman was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. Soon after she learned of Zinn’s death, Walker explained: “He was thrown out because he loved us, and he showed that love by just being with us. He loved his students. He didn’t see why we should be second-class citizens.” Just a few years ago, Zinn was invited back to Spelman to give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree.

World-renowned linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky, a longtime friend of Zinn’s, reflected on Zinn’s “reverence for and his detailed study of what he called ‘the countless small actions of unknown people’ that lead to those great moments that enter the historical record.” Zinn co-wrote, with Anthony Arnove, “Voices of a People’s History of the United States,” with speeches, letters and other original source material from those “unknown people” who have shaped this country. It was made into a star-studded documentary, which premiered on the History Channel just weeks before Zinn died. Matt Damon, its executive producer, gave “A People’s History” enormous popular exposure in the hit movie “Good Will Hunting” when his character Will recommended the book to his psychiatrist. Damon was Zinn’s neighbor in Newton, Mass., and knew him since he was 10 years old.


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Last May, when I interviewed Zinn, he reflected on Barack Obama’s first months in office: “I wish President Obama would listen carefully to Martin Luther King. I’m sure he pays verbal homage, as everyone does, to Martin Luther King, but he ought to think before he sends missiles over Pakistan, before he agrees to this bloated military budget, before he sends troops to Afghanistan, before he opposes the single-payer system.

“He ought to ask: ‘What would Martin Luther King do? And what would Martin Luther King say?’ And if he only listened to King, he would be a very different president than he’s turning out to be so far. I think we ought to hold Obama to his promise to be different and bold and to make change. So far, he hasn’t come through on that promise.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By JDmysticDJ, February 8, 2010 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment

Sorry to Zinn, Chomsky, and Goodman.

Anyone concerned about aluminothermite should search “Debunking wtc explosives theory.

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By JDmysticDJ, February 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment

On further examination, the question of aluminothermic pyrotechnics found in the dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center, is a mystery that needs to be solved, and no definitive conclusion about the collapse of the World Trade Center Buildings can be made until this mystery is solved, or explained.

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By JDmysticDJ, February 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment


Seeing evil, where there is no evil (other than paranoid conjecture, or even wishful thinking) subverts, and discredits, the efforts of people like Zinn, Chomsky, and Goodman , who combat(ed) very real evil.

People like Zinn, Chomsky, and Goodman use(ed) actual facts and moral precepts to combat that very real evil.

I believe that the Bush Administration was guilty of malfeasance, but that the only conspiracy that makes rational sense, is a conspiracy by a relatively small group of fanatical terrorists, who used our own technology to attack us.

I’m not naive. Anyone who knows about the Lavon Affair, knows that false flagg incidents are real, and that for every false flagg incident that is discovered, there are likely many others that go undiscovered, indeed the primary prerequisite of false flagg incidents is that they go undiscovered.

The magnitude of the conspiracy you suggest defies reason and logic, and until you can provide evidence to the contrary, I will continue to consider you and your co-conspiracy-theorists as being delusional.

“In response to the question of “Where is the Boeing,” the answer is ‘in pieces.’”

“There was plenty of evidence of the airplane at the site including debris from the plane, the remains of the passengers, and the cockpit data and voice recorders.”

If flight 77 didn’t hit the Pentagon, where is it, its passengers, and crew? (See above.)

A cursory investigation of the conspiracy you suggest, shows that the conspiracy would have had to be enormous, in terms of participation and planning, and would not have provided any rational expectation, of non-discovery.

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By ofersince72, February 6, 2010 at 9:35 pm Link to this comment

powers that be won’t bring to justice crimes that
we know happened both in the Bush administration
and now in the Obama administration….There is tons
of evidence for impeachable crimes against Bush…
No one would touch it. Probably the same for Obama
by now….
Personally never got into the 911 consp, I do believe
just because the build 7 came down by itself does
not rule out anything…
but we need to concentrate on crimes that we no are
and i still believe that Amy Goodman is the very
best living tribute to Howard.

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By Virginia777, February 6, 2010 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment

“I think that sums up what it is that has kept the Bill of Rights alive. Not the President or Congress, or the Supreme Court, or the wealthy media. But all those people who have refused to quit, who have insisted on their rights and the rights of others, the rights of all human beings everywhere.” - Howard Zinn

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By mustntsleepmustwarnothers, February 6, 2010 at 11:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

9/11 is the litmus test of our time.  The only choices are to be a truth teller, a tool, or a traitor/murderer.  That’s all.  Zinn made his choice, of course it will affect his legacy.

Finally, under formal rules of logic, truth tellers are under no obligation to answer every quandary. If no airliner hit the Pentagon, then no airliner hit the pentagon. Everything else is subsidiary.

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By mark, February 6, 2010 at 10:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What Need We Fear Who Knows It, When No One Can Call Our Power to Account?” William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

Well, Mr. JDmysticDJ they don’t have to worry about you, do they?

What was the difference in the real world between “Good Germans” who refused to listen to the BBC and refused to believe the Reichstag fire was a Nazi false flag crime and actual Nazis?  When does “See no [obvious] evil” become evil?

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By JDmysticDJ, February 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm Link to this comment

The superior intellects who condemn Zinn, Chomsky, Goodman and indeed all progressives who do not accede to their superior faculties of discernment, are arrogant in the extreme, and do a disservice to the cause of justice, because their theories, based purely on the broadest kinds of circumstantial evidence, detract attention from the very real documented criminal malfeasance of the Bush Administration, and the Bush Administration’s Neocon advisors.

There are rational questions that challenge their assertions, but they will only answer those questions with conjecture, based on circumstantial evidence. There are a wide variety of theories, and those many theories have many dots, but those dots have never been connected by real documented empirical evidence, and many of their early assertions have been empirically proven incorrect.

The co-conspiracy-theorists assert the collapse of building 7, was impossible unless the detonation of explosives was the cause, in spite of the fact that the worlds most reputable engineering agencies attributed that collapse to structural damage and fires which were caused by the debris that fell from the collapsing twin towers; debris that fell and caused damage throughout the entire complex.

“In response to FEMA’s concerns, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was authorized to lead an investigation into the structural failure and collapse of the World Trade Center twin towers and 7 World Trade Center.The investigation, led by Dr S. Shyam Sunder, drew not only upon in-house technical expertise, but also upon the knowledge of several outside private institutions, including the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (SEI/ASCE), the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY).

Do these superior intellects assert that the NIST was a part of the plot, or was willing to cover up the plot? If so, their claim is just that, a claim not backed up by any empirical evidence.

The working hypothesis, released in the June 2004 progress report and reiterated in a June 2007 status update, was that an initial failure in a critical column occurred below the 13th floor, caused by damage from fire and/or debris from the collapse of the two main towers. The collapse progressed vertically up to the east mechanical penthouse. The interior structure was unable to handle the redistributed load, resulting in horizontal progression of the failure across lower floors, particularly the 5th to 7th floors. This resulted in “a disproportionate collapse of the entire structure.”

It bothers me that these co-conspiracy-theorists would disparage the contributions and accomplishments of Zinn, Chomsky, and Goodman because Zinn, Chomsky, and Goodman fail(ed) to endorse their theories.

My theory is that the twin towers were destroyed because of the criminal malfeasance (Intentional or unintentional) of the Bush Administration, and the hatred of a group of terrorists who were seeking vengeance and pursuing an inauthentic and demented form of jihad, because of previous U.S. foreign policy actions. .

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By NYCartist, February 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

Garrison, That’s really a nice comment.  My favorite book of all (as I near 7 0 at end of month - no leap year this, so I’ll be 17 1/2 birthdays if I make it), is Howard Zinn’s “You Can’t Be Neutral on A Moving Train”, his autobio.  The book, starting with the intro is a handbook for social change.  How the smallest thing each of us can do could have some reason for someone to be inspired.

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By Garrison, February 5, 2010 at 4:37 am Link to this comment

Thanks Amy for this wonderful tribute to one of the few truly radical historians of the US, who opened many young people’s eyes to the parts of our history we were never taught in school.

My memories of Zinn as a young actiivst in Boston - always there at the demonstrations, whether on the podium or in the crowd, on the picket lines at Boston University, supporting the rights of secretaries and janitors as well as faculty (and standing up to the dreaded John Silber), and always friendly, accessible, and speaking truth to power.

We will miss you and remember you Howard Zinn.

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By Ex candidate, February 5, 2010 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Born yesterday = brainwashed dummy
Dont let anyone tell you to be a tabula rosa

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By ofersince72, February 5, 2010 at 12:16 am Link to this comment

I myself understand those that might want it
investigated as an inside job….Just who is going
to investigate this?  The Justice Dept…laugh and a
chuckle….A special Capitol Hill committee>?

There hands are so filled with blood over in Iraq
and elsewhere do think that they for one minute
are going to have a honest investigation???
We don’t have special prosecutors anymore since
Walsh did such a good job it scared them.

It ain’t gonna happen…...When in the last twenty
years have you seen the gov investigate themselves?
The Washington Post or New York Times? Laugh and a
chuckle.  How would an investigation take place?

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By ofersince72, February 5, 2010 at 12:02 am Link to this comment

Lets just stop these wars that they used 911 as
excuse to create.

I would be happy if our government would at least
be honest and label them RESOURCE WARS as they are.

If it was a conspirousy, we aren’t going to find out

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By 911truthdotorg, February 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment

honeyd and doublestandards/glasshouses,

Obama is using 9/11 to continue the eternal war on terror. The “underwear bomber” is just another sham to justify the use of the billion dollar contract for body scanners and get involved in Yemen. The CIA knew all about him. The State Dept tried to stop him from getting on that plane and the CIA stopped them and escorted him on.

Are you even aware of WTC Building 7 that collapsed
at 5:20pm that afternoon after being hit by NOTHING??
How do explain that? How come the sham 9/11 Commission Report didn’t even mention it at all???

All you have to do is believe your eyes and not what you’ve been lied about. It’s as simple as that.

Please check out these sites:

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By honeyd, February 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If there is so much obvious truth to the 9/11 story, why doesn’t Mr. Obama bring it out into the open? Surely, it will benefit him.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, February 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It has been almost 8 1/2 years since 9/11 and not a
single person has come forward to give concrete
testimony that it was an inside job.  It has been
estimated that two thousand people would have had to
have been in on the conspiracy or had knowledge of it
in order for it to have been carried out.  How are
you going to keep that many people quiet?  How are
you going to find that many people willing to kill so
many of their fellow Americans?  On any given work
day there were as many as 25,000 people occupying the
twin towers.  25,000 potential victims.  You’re going
to find two thousand Americans willing to kill that
many fellow citizens?  Conspiracy theorists have said
that most of the two thousand people would not
necessarily have known the full extent of what they
were involved in.  Maybe not before hand, but they
sure as hell would have known after the fact. 
Once you start theorizing about conspiracies there is
no end to it.  If Zinn, Chomsky, Goodman, Klein,
etc., aren’t interested in 9/11 so called truth, it
must be because they are “government propaganda
operatives.”  Everything becomes part of a vast web
of conspiracy and no one can be trusted.  Crazy
people think like that.  It’s called a delusional

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By Quinty, February 4, 2010 at 6:03 pm Link to this comment

It’s not that small government is wrong. Small government would be nice. The
fewer people mucking up our lives the better….


Only government can tackle certain widespread societal problems. If the private
sector would provide, for example, free health care to all, no questions asked,
just because they need the care. And doctors say they do, then there would be
no need for socialized medicine.

Did I use the taboo word? “Socialism!”

Well, we know where that battle began. Long, long ago when those with capital
and power and a great deal of self interest put themselves and their families
first. Looking down upon working people, people who worked for them,
because they either lacked the will or the talents or the energy to become as
rich as themselves. There were “gentlemen” and “working men” and class distinctions were very great: proof being the dirt under the fingernails of a working man and his lack of education.

That is the natural physics of power. Those who have it look down upon those
who don’t because, simply, they can. Never mind any moral arguments to the
contrary, not even if the Son of God they claim to worship says the contrary.
Preaching simplicity, decency, and love. Looking beyond ancient distinctions of
class, even here in the United States. Where the working class so often
identifies with the rich and powerful.

So since these rapacious capitalists won here in the United States any hint of
strengthening a public commons is seen as fundamentally “un-American” and
“Socialist.” Voters kick the bums out to vote in worse bums. Look at Craig

It will be long before Howard Zinn is ever forgiven for bucking the basic tenets
for he tried to undermine how we see ourselves..

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By Neil Farbstein, February 4, 2010 at 2:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dont be stupid, if we did’nt battle the terrorists in afghanistan we’d be as dead as MLK.

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By Louis Zimmerman, February 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Howard Zinn will be very missed!!!  It was one of his earlier recordings on an
old cassette tape that really helped open my eyes!!  I am very thankful for his
bright Spirit and the fine example that he lived. He was courageous, and helped
many of us move in a better direction.  Hats off to you Brother Howard.

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By 911truthdotorg, February 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment

Zinn failed his biggest test

Mr. Zinn and others (Chomsky, Naomi Klein, etc) are cowards for not having the courage to publicly question the official 9/11 story. The story simply makes no sense and there is SO much information available proving that it makes no sense. If he had done so, maybe we wouldn’t be in this perpetual sham of the “war on terror” that is destroying this country. Since 9/11, our rights, freedoms, privacy, etc. are systematically being destroyed in the name of “safety”.

If Mr. Zinn was true to his ideals in being a “radical historian” and questioning authority and the government, questioning 9/11 would have been a no brainer. But he didn’t even try to do that. He wouldn’t go near that “third rail”, probably for fear of being labeled a crazy “conspiracy theorist”. And that would destroy his reputation as a “scholar”.

The war on terror is a house of cards with 9/11 as the foundation. The only fact we know from the government about 9/11 is that 3,000 people were slaughtered.
If the truth about 9/11 ever comes out, the “war on terror” will collapse just like the THREE WTC towers did. The government is terrified of that happening.

Mr. Zinn would have had a huge impact on the truth coming out and ending this perpetual “war on terror”. I guess “realism” got in the way.

In this respect, he failed his biggest test.

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By Basoflakes, February 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

The major networks gave no tribute to Howard Zinn.  That probably wouldn’t have bothered him since he didn’t think the major networks were worth anything.

Howard appeared often on Amy’s Democracy Now show, the only news show worth watching in America.  I think that would have made him happy.

I’m glad something appeared here.  Truth is something Howard spent his whole life being.  When you look at the life of Howard Zinn, I cannot think of a way his life could have been more meaningful.

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By Steven, February 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks Tomack for the response to Hal.  the 9/11 conspiracy hacks perform the
same disservice as the Flag waving America is the victim crowd.  It’s simple, if you
f**k over enough people in the world they will eventually come back to bite you in
the ass.  Just as much as Bush/Cheney/Military Industrialist crowd benefited from
9/11, so did Osama and his ilk.  The whole point was to start a war, and we
handed it to them on a silver platter.  Now the new questions, can it be stopped?

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By NYCartist, February 3, 2010 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

The rest of the quote that John Ellis so wisely gives us from Zinn is “it’s like you were born yesterday and the government can tell you anything”.  The whole speech that the line was in is on Democracy Now’s website, Jan. 2 or 3, 2009.  Transcript.

A MUST READ: Alice Walker’s goodbye to Howard Zinn on Znet, Feb. 2, 2010.

And thanks, Amy Goodman.

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By tomack, February 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment

Dear Mr. Hal,

Your quote, ” Smaller government crimes that flatter their audience’s thinking they push,” and the overall tone about sleight of hand, etc., is not, I firmly believe, appropriately applied to the good Mr. Zinn. I’m not sure about the others you mention—even though I have read them—because I do not know enough of their work to offer a productive opinion. However, while many of us—the curious ones—already knew much of what the Prof included in his People’s History, the fact that MANY more were able to read it was a real contribution to basic education and historical reporting.

I do not call the factual reporting of native genocide (millions murdered) caused by the Euro “exploration and colonization” of the “America’s” a sleight of hand trick. Nor do I call the the subsequent hundreds of years of like butchery for gain, as he detailed, up to and including our most recent attempts at “Manifest Destiny”, some trivial attempt at keeping our collective eyes off….what, Mr. Hal, what are THEY (Mr. Zinn included), keeping us from looking at? 

Whether or not he believed in a 9/11 conspiracy is NOT the point when it comes to honoring someone who has—his entire life—fought for US—THE PEOPLE!

You…..should learn a little more about the man you call a propaganda operative before you open your mouth. Your words were offensive…in my opinion. And, in the way Zinn might approve of, I report them as such. 

To Mr. Zinn,

May your reward include a place where all you have fought for exists in universal abundance; yet still enough room left for a good dose of civil Disobedience. 

With honor,

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By ofersince72, February 3, 2010 at 10:24 am Link to this comment

911 is never,  ever, going to be investigated as a
conspirousy,  I believe Chomsky knows this thus his
stance, what is the difference , the end result was
the same either way.

to me it is 50-50…..both circumstances are just
as posible.

there are many , many reasons that there would be
six angry men with box cutters wanting to make a
statement about the genocides being performed in
their part of the world.
there are also many reasons as we have seen that
the military industrial complex, oil companies
and many others have benefited from the outcome of
the six angry men with box cutters is a bizarre
story though.

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By ofersince72, February 3, 2010 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

Hal that is a very provacative thought that I also
often have considered, as much as i do like Goodman.

I won’t bring up the subject that first brought that
very thought to mind,  but it also is a topic that
could “rile the masses”... I have have asked them
to explore it…..ask the quest that she has on
frequently a few questions that concern me and she
doesn’t.  I have been very dissappointed because of
But my respect for DN remains…
It is still our only viable daily news service.
Haven’t gotten into the 911 cospirousy much but
when I heard Chomsky say that it couldn’t be
pulled off without a “leak”,  I thoughat how could
this man be so nieve.  Most leaks are planted.
Our intellegence agenies can do anything they want
without a leak,  so I was very surprised to hear
Chomsky say that they couldn’t.

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By hal, February 3, 2010 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Come on people, this is a progressive site—complexities are allowed, don’t take individuals at face value.

I have no use for any high profile “progressives” who deny 9/11 truth.  It’s the touchstone of truth showing who is a true government critic and who is not.

Zinn, Chomsky, Goodman & Moynihan are govt. propaganda operatives.  Sleight of hand artists they direct your attention to acceptable criticisms of power.  Government crimes that can rile the masses they deny.  Smaller government crimes that flatter their audience’s thinking they push.  ‘Don’t look there, look over here!  There’s nothing behind that curtain!  My audience is so smart and perceptive!’

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By JohannG, February 2, 2010 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

With Howard Zinn’s death a voice of wisdom and
compassion has fallen silent.

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By ofersince72, February 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

He was people’s historian,

Amy,  you are the people’s choice.!!!!

Your work gives great tribute Howard Zinn!!!!

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