Radical History: A Conversation with Howard Zinn

Interviewed by Harry Kreisler • Conversations with History • April 20, 2001


KREISLER: Let’s talk a little about your youth first and then talk about the other things. How specifically do you think your parents shaped your character?

ZINN: Well, my parents were not political people at all my parents were just ordinary; they were Jewish immigrants worked in garment factories when they came here then my father became a waiter. You might say he moved up in the world from being a factory worker to being a waiter and then never even became a head waiter.

And so as far as political influence, no. The only influence that had in my life was my observation of their lives. My observation that my father was working very hard, of honest hardworking men. My mother working very hard, raising four sons and yet, of course, they had nothing to show for it. That is, they were perfect counterpoints to the Horatio Alger myth that if you work hard in this country you will get somewhere and I think that that intensified my my feeling about the injustice of an economic system in which there are people all over the country like my parents who worked very, very hard had nothing to show for it.

Conversations with History • April 20, 2001