Who was Howard Zinn? Trump slams author on Constitution Day for making students 'ashamed' of American history

Zinn's book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is widely used in schools since it was published in 1980 and shows American history through the struggles of people at grassroots

                            Who was Howard Zinn? Trump slams author on Constitution Day for making students 'ashamed' of American history
Howard Zinn and Donald Trump (Getty Images)

Speaking on Constitution Day on September 16, President Donald Trump, during a White House conference on "American History", announced that he was signing an executive order to establish the 1776 Commission. He said that this group would “promote patriotic education". Further, he mentioned that the National Endowment for the Humanities would be awarding a grant to support the development of a "pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history". In his conference, Trump expressed how it is time to reclaim history. "We are here today to declare that we will never submit to tyranny."

The president also bashed people on the Left and accused them of indoctrination. He further singled out Howard Zinn, who is the author of ‘A People’s History of the United States’. Trump said, "As many of you testified today, the left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history."

According to Time magazine, Zinn's book is widely used in schools since it was published in 1980. It narrates the history of the US not by the "achievements of elite White men" but by portraying an alternative approach based on the struggles of people at the grassroots. 

The WH event also had a panel discussion that featured pointed criticisms of the '1619 Project', historian Howard Zinn's 'A People's History of the United States', along with other historical studies. The panelists said such books were focused on a radical and misguided interpretation of America's past, as reported by Education Week.

Further, Trump pushed for scholars — Professor Wilfred McClay, Dr Peter Wood and Ted Rebarber — to help preach patriotism. Time magazine notes that POTUS’s push for “patriotic education” via McClay’s work echoes decades of conservative efforts to counter Zinn’s narrative. 

No sooner did Trump’s comments about Zinn drop, people took to Twitter to support the scholar and lashed out at POTUS. A user wrote, "Trump is an ignorant person who is reading the script written by others who are just as mean and just as ignorant in their own way. Unfortunately for our poor benighted country, he should mention the great scholar Howard Zinn in that derogatory and dismissive way. Stupidity."


A user wrote that Trump might be clueless about Zinn. "Obvious point, but it’s really laughable to imagine that Trump has any clue who Howard Zinn is." Another wrote about how Trump has ironically made Zinn more renowned. "The irony here is that Trump using Howard Zinn, of all people, as a political foil actually makes Howard Zinn a lot more relevant to American politics than he has been in a long time. And it will inevitably lead to more readers of Zinn."



Who was Howard Zinn?

Zinn, who died in 2010 at the age of 87, was a historian, author, professor, playwright and activist. His life’s work focused on a gamut of issues including race, class, war and history, that focussed on the struggles of people. Born in 1922 to Jewish immigrant parents, Zinn grew up in New York City. 

Author Howard Zinn speaks during the People Speak ASCAP Music Cafe performance held during the 2009 Sundance Music Festival on January 22, 2009, in Park City, Utah (Getty Images)

After attending college under the G.I. Bill, Zinn worked as a warehouse loader while earning a PhD in history from Columbia University. The activist in him awakened when he was teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, where he became active in the Civil Rights Movement. He became a professor of political science at Boston University, where he taught until his retirement in 1988. During this time at Boston, he became active in the anti-war movement which he noted had its roots in the Civil Rights Movement.

American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery (Getty Images)

In 1966, Zinn and activist Ralph Featherstone traveled to Japan for a two-week lecture tour about the Vietnam War. Zinn explained his stand on the US's war with Vietnam, "After my trip to Japan I continued to speak against the war all over the country: teach-ins, rallies, and debates. I was becoming frustrated that no major political figure, no leading periodical, no published book, however critical of the war, dared to say what was so clear to me — that the United States must simply get out of Vietnam as quickly as possible... I wrote as quickly as I could, a little book of a hundred and twenty-five pages called ‘The Logic of Withdrawal’ (You Can’t Be Neutral)."

In 1968, he traveled to Hanoi to receive prisoners released by the North Vietnamese that inspired his work ‘Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies of Law and Order'.

He went on to become the author of dozens of books, including ‘A People’s History of the United States’, the play ‘Marx in Soho’, ‘Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal’, and ‘SNCC: The New Abolitionists’. Among them, ‘A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present’ became widely read and most translated US history book with more than two million copies sold to date. For such an extensive oeuvre of work, Zinn got many honors such as Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Eugene V Debs award for his writing and political activism, and the Ridenhour Courage Prize.

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