It is not easy for me to write a few words about Howard Zinn, the great American activist and historian who passed away a few days ago. He was a very close friend for 45 years. The families were very close too. His wife Roz, who died of cancer not long before, was also a marvelous person and close friend. Also somber is the realization that a whole generation seems to be disappearing, including several other old friends: Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmed, and others, who were not only astute and productive scholars but also dedicated and courageous militants, always on call when needed — which was constant. A combination that is essential if there is to be hope of decent survival.
Howard's remarkable life and work are summarized best in his own words. His primary concern, he explained, was “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lie at the roots of “those great moments” that enter the historical record — a record that will be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if it is torn from these roots as it passes through the filters of doctrine and dogma. His life was always closely intertwined with his writings and innumerable talks and interviews. It was devoted, selflessly, to empowerment of the unknown people who brought about great moments. That was true when he was an industrial worker and labor activist, and from the days, 50 years ago, when he was teaching at Spellman college in Atlanta Georgia, a black college that was open mostly to the small black elite.