JC – I want to take a moment to remember the fine historian Howard Zinn. I’m certain that many readers of 3G1B have read his work over the years, and The People’s History of the United States, among numerous other fine works, was one of the great readable histories of our country, long before Good Will Hunting gave it the legs to reach the masses.
I had occasion to spend time with Howard once, many years ago. I was just graduated from college, working in a bookstore (what else, right?) in Athens, GA. A customer mentioned that Zinn was coming to speak at the University of Georgia in a couple of weeks, but that no one was making any effort to sell books for the event. After several fruitless calls to the university to make contact, I called information in Cambridge, MA, got his phone number, and called him directly.
That’s the sort of man he was: listed in the phone directory, willing to speak to anyone. He suggested that I pick him up from the airport in Atlanta and give him a lift to Athens, and in return he would sign books at the store for an hour. Who would refuse?
HZ refused me when I offered to grab his bag for him – back when non-fliers could still go to meet a plane at the gate – and when we climbed in my little blue Geo Metro, he was as personable and friendly as anyone could have hoped, but even more, he was interested. He was instantly invested in the situations of the university, its students, and the surrounding community, asking pointed questions about race relations, about the state of the recently proposed grad student union, and about the social state in the local community.
Later that evening, when he spoke before a full house at the college, he stood before the crowd and spoke eloquently about injustice in America, how it persists, and how it could be combatted locally. He had clearly considered our conversation, how the issues reflected locally and nationally, and integrated them into his speech (when he had the time, I don’t know).
A few years ago, perhaps 13 or 14 years after our first meeting, I saw him again, this time at a NEIBA convention in Boston. He recalled our first meeting and asked if I was up to date with the current situation in Athens. I wasn’t, having left Georgia 8 years earlier, but the exchange indicated something to me about the man. While a fine academic, a consummate scholar, and a damn good lefty, he was also thoroughly engaged, kind, and attentive to the world and the people around him. Something to which we ought all aspire.
Rest in peace, Dr. Zinn.