The Nation

When Respectability Was No Longer Respectable, and Virtue Required Acting Out, Not Leaning In

The Nation • August 6, 1960 and republished March 23, 2015
One afternoon some weeks ago, with the dogwood on the Spelman College campus newly bloomed and the grass close-cropped and fragrant, an attractive, tawny-skinned girl crossed the lawn to her dormitory to put a notice on the bulletin board. It read: Young Ladies Who Can Picket Please Sign Below.

The notice revealed, in its own quaint language, that within the dramatic revolt of Negro college students in the South today another phenomenon has been developing. This is the upsurge of the young, educated Negro woman against the generations-old advice of her elders: be nice, be well-mannered and ladylike, don’t speak loudly, and don’t get into trouble. On the campus of the nation’s leading college for Negro young women—pious, sedate, encrusted with the traditions of gentility and moderation—these exhortations, for the first time, are being firmly rejected.

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Who’s Afraid of Radical History?

Mitch Daniels’s covert war on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. By Robert Cohen and Sonia Murrow • The Nation • August 5, 2013 A recent Associated Press expose—drawing on e-mails obtained under the Freedom of… Read More

Studs Terkel • Photographer unknown • WikiCommons

Howard Zinn Defends Studs Terkel from Red-Baiting in the Times

Published in The Progressive • November 7, 2008
Reading Edward Rothstein’s sour commentary on Studs Terkel in the New York Times on November 2, I was surprised that Rothstein, presumably a sophisticated thinker, seems to believe one can separate one’s political views from a historical narrative, even from oral history.

“It is, in fact, impossible to separate Mr. Terkel’s political vision from the contours of his oral history,” he wrote.

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Spend the Bailout Money on the Middle Class

Published in The Nation • October 28, 2008
It is sad to see both major parties agree to spend $700 billion of taxpayer money to bail out huge financial institutions that are notable for two characteristics: incompetence and greed. There is a much better solution to the financial crisis. But it would require discarding what has been conventional wisdom for too long: that government intervention in the economy (“big government”) must be avoided like the plague, because the “free market” can be depended on to guide the economy toward growth and justice. Surely the sight of Wall Street begging for government aid is almost comic in light of its long devotion to a “free market” unregulated by government.

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Beyond the New Deal

Published in The Nation • April 7, 2008
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them.

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The Optimism of Uncertainty

Published by 
ZCommunications • September 30, 2004; The Nation • September 20, 2004
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played.

The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

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The Others

Published in The Nation • February 2, 2002
Every day for several months, the New York Times did what should always be done when a tragedy is summed up in a statistic: It gave us miniature portraits of the human beings who died on September 11—their names, photos, glimmers of their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, how friends and loved ones remember them.

As the director of the New York Historical Society said: “The peculiar genius of it was to put a human face on numbers that are unimaginable to most of us…. It’s so obvious that every one of them was a person who deserved to live a full and successful and happy life. You see what was lost.”

I was deeply moved, reading those intimate sketches—”A Poet of Bensonhurst…A Friend, A Sister…Someone to Lean On…Laughter, Win or Lose…” I thought: Those who celebrated the grisly deaths of the people in the twin towers and the Pentagon as a blow to symbols of American dominance in the world—what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings.

Then it occurred to me: What if all those Americans who declare their support for Bush’s “war on terrorism” could see, instead of those elusive symbols—Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda—the real human beings who have died under our bombs? I do believe they would have second thoughts.

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SNCC: The Battle-Scarred Youngsters

Published in The Nation • October 5, 1963 and republished April 23, 2009
Having just spent a little time in Greenwood, Miss., I felt a certain air of unreality about the March on Washington. The grandiose speeches, the array of movie stars, the big names dropped and bounced several times, the sheer impress of numbers—all added up, technically, to an occasion that one describes as “thrilling.” And it must have been so to participants and to the millions who watched on television. Still, while swept up in the spirit myself, I wondered if, to the Negro citizen of Greenwood, Itta Bena, and Ruleville; of Albany, Americus, and Dawson; of Selma, Gadsden and Birmingham; of Danville, and other places, it may not have seemed the most Gargantuan and best organized of irrelevancies.

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