Toward the end of his life, when a New York Times reporter called him with the morbid task of interviewing him in preparation for his future obituary, he asked him, “What’s your deadline?”
Howard never missed an opportunity to add levity, a sense of humanity, to the often over-serious and sterile culture of the left.
Going through Howard’s archives recently, gathering some of his talks for a book, I found early speeches of Howard’s I had never listened to before.
The speeches, going back to 1963, showed Howard’s sharp political acumen, his clarity, his ability to speak the language of his audience in a way that crystallized their passions and ideals.
But they also revealed something I had not quite expected.
Here in 1963, speaking in Atlanta to activists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a very serious gathering, was Howard joking with his audience about ending his talk short because he was hungry.
I had thought that maybe Howard had probably grown into his ease with an audience, his dry wit. But he was clearly a natural from the beginning.
How else would someone only 26 years old, as he was in 1948, be asked to introduce Henry Wallace at a presidential campaign event in Brooklyn?
And how else could he sustain his remarkable optimism over all the years of setbacks and challenges he encountered?
It’s worth remembering that A People’s History of the United States first came out in 1980 as a tide of reaction was seeking to bury the social movements that inspired Howard’s book and which he saw as the hope for the future.
It could have seemed a hopeless venture in that political environment to seek to change the way the United States understands and teaches its history, and yet he achieved precisely that.
ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Howard Zinn Turns 90: The Great Legacy of the People’s Historian | Alternet.