How did personal experience shape Howard Zinn's worldview?
Howard Zinn's personal experience deeply and profoundly shaped his worldview. First, Zinn knew firsthand what it was like to be poor. His parents were Jewish immigrants to New York City who worked as laborers. They met on the job in a factory. Zinn's father was also a ditch digger, a waiter, and a window cleaner. When his parents owned a candy store for a brief time, the family could still barely make ends meet. For Zinn, "poverty" was not an abstract category he read about in books; it was what his parents, his relatives, his friends, and he himself experienced on a daily basis.
Zinn was a boy when the Great Depression hit, and he saw firsthand the devastation caused by the economic collapse. It was time of questioning and ferment, as many people wondered how capitalism could have gone so wrong and why ordinary people were suffering so acutely.
Zinn was influenced by left-wing books he read at the time, such as The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, along with books about the evils of fascism. An especially transformative moment was when Zinn, who had met some communists, joined them at a peaceful demonstration. Even though the demonstration was nonviolent, police officers on horseback charged at the crowd, knocking Zinn unconscious. He wrote that from that time forward, he came to believe the system of American democracy needed to be reinvented from the ground up to far better promote peace, equality, and mutual cooperation.
Zinn was a warehouse worker and worked in a shipyard. He belonged to and supported labor unions. It was only later in life that he became a privileged college professor.
Seeing life from below—from what is called the subaltern point of view—for so long put Zinn's sympathies squarely on the side of working class and oppressed people, because he could understand what their lives were like. All of his influenced his work as a historian and led him to write The People's History of the United States, which tells the story of the country as experienced by the people on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
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