Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tribute to Howard Zinn

When I was growing up -- the child of radical intellectuals in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- there were two other families that stood out for me as being cut from the same cloth as my own: the Boudins and the Zinns. Leonard and Jean Boudin lived in Greenwich Village, and their home was our home during many happy trips to New York. Leonard is the only lawyer I remember from my childhood, and his loving encouragement and willingness to take me seriously during my very early years as an attorney -- given that he was one of the great attorneys of his time, while I was a young whipper-snapper still figuring out who I wanted to be when I grew up -- endeared him to me for a lifetime. Roz and Howard Zinn, on the other hand, were local: they were at our home for every major family party; were at every demonstration that my parents took me to; were part of the discussion on what was wrong with our country and what could be done to right it -- not as a theoretical matter, but as a practical matter (which sit-in's to attend; what letters to the editor of which paper should be written; etc etc) -- that made up the fabric of my childhood. Beyond the political connection, which was strong, we also had a personal connection -- Roz and Howard's daughter Myla spent her summers in the same small town on Cape Cod where my mother still lives, and we all spent many happy hours together on the beach and in the village, enjoying summer swims and ice creams and all those small things that make New England summers special. I was honored to provide babysitting services to the family, caring for Howard's oldest grandson for two consecutive summers when he was just a baby and toddler. In this capacity, I got to know both Roz and Howard as devoted parents and grandparents. When I was in law school, I had the true honor of giving a presentation with Howard Zinn. As I said, I had known him from childhood -- but now I was sitting next to him on a panel, talking about immigration issues (if I remember correctly), with him providing a historical and political perspective while I filled in with a legal one. Howard treated me as a peer, and was utterly respectful of my vision and my voice -- something that deeply honored and impressed me at the time, and has stayed with me ever since. When I talked to my mother this morning, just after learning of Howard's death, we touched on Howard's legacy -- A People's History of the United States in particular. But more than his contribution to history, politics and culture, I will always remember Howard Zinn as one of the warmest and most charming men I have ever met. As I said to my mother this morning, Howard was always a delight to be with -- more so than almost anyone I know. He was a truly lovely person, and his passing leaves a hole in the world that will never be completely filled.


  • Thanks for the very personal human tribute to Howard Zinn. I only knew him as a participant at some demonstration or other during the years I was in Boston in graduate school. From what you have written I would have enjoyed knowing him on a more personal level.

    We often forget that those people who have a very public persona also have a private on too, often just as admirable.

    By Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream, at 8:40 AM  

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