By Saba Hamedy
March 29, 2010
Ross Caputi, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore and member of
BU's Anti-War Coalition, said he felt like a terrorist after fighting
in the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004.
He left the Middle East feeling alone, wondering if he was crazy or
if everyone else was.
One day, he stumbled upon Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the
United States," and everything changed.
"I felt alone and like many veterans, I turned to drugs and alcohol,"
he said. "I don't know when I read 'A People's History' but I'm not
exaggerating when I say it changed my life. Professor Zinn captured
the voices of the silent majority and made me realize what happened
to me was not unique and I'm not crazy. . . in a way, he saved my life."
Caputi was one of the many speakers who shared Zinn's impact on thier
life at "A Celebration of the Life of Howard Zinn."
About 300 of Zinn's friends, family members, colleagues, students and
admirers crowded into Marsh Chapel on Saturday to memorialize Zinn as
a historian, educator and history-maker.
The front of the chapel had tables set up with remembrance books for
attendees to sign their names and hometowns, posters with newspaper
articles about Zinn and photos of Zinn with friends and colleagues.
The memorial was co-organized by Boston University professors Edouard
Bustin, Neta Crawford, Irene Gendzier, David Mayers, David Lyons and
Sofia Perez, and graduate student Abram Trosky.
"Some members of the political science department contacted me about
six weeks ago to arrange the service for professor Zinn," said Chapel
Director Ray Bouchard. "I met with some of the planning committee and
we exchanged emails and calls about details of the service."
President Robert Brown opened the ceremony with a few words about
Zinn's legacy at BU.
"I think it's safe to say he was one of the best-known faculty
members at BU," he said. "He acted on his beliefs and he led by example."
Frances Fox Piven, a City University of New York Graduate Center
professor and longtime friend of Zinn, followed Brown's speech.
"Zinn had a good life because he knew being a political activist was
part of a happy life," he said. "There will never be another one."
Next, Suffolk University professor and former BU Chaplain James
Carroll talked about how Zinn shaped history.
"His arguments were embodied, his politics were personal," he said.
"What set him apart from every other left wing prophet was his voice
continued to be heard."
Noam Chomsky, an author and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
professor emeritus, then spoke about his friendship with Zinn.
"I experienced Howard's incredible capacity to approach and engage
any audience and told them something they knew they needed to hear," he said.
He recalled when he, Zinn and other New England professors traveled
to Washington, D.C. to lobby against the Vietnam War, among other
fond memories of their activism.
Musician and BU graduate Vikesh Kapoor then performed an original
composition dedicated to Zinn.
Professors Bustin, Crawford, Gendzier, Lyons, Mark Silverstein and
Betty Zisk, and American Friends Service Committee member Joseph
Gerson and WBUR Boston writer Ed Seigel also spoke.
"Howard and I had issues because of differences in approaches to
curriculum," Zisk said. "I was part of the religious, not-in-your
face movement and he was confrontational. I changed."
Zinn taught people that change lies in the power of the powerless,
Gerson talked about the Zinn within him.
"I learned that intellectual worth is a critical element in
nonviolent social and political change," he said.
Silverstein recalled occupying the political science department
office on Bay State Road with Zinn.
"Howard was always surrounded by people," he said. "He would lean
forward and listen intently to whatever his visitor would say."
Zinn's classes were so popular that Silverstein said he thought at
least one-third of students at BU were enrolled in them.
"The line for Howard's office hours often went down the stairs to Bay
State Road," he said.
Spitzer Space Telescope also performed a rendition of popular folk
song "Joe Hill," from the 1960's.
The celebration culminated with attendees joining together to sing
"Down by the Riverside," a hymn that reiterates Zinn's belief: "Study
war no more."
Attendee James Williamson was a teacher's assistant for a course that
Zinn was faculty advisor for, which Williamson deemed "the radical course."
"Howard was a great guy and stimulating lecturer," he said. "He had a
way of drawing a very interesting circle of people around him . . . a
wonderful community he was helping create by virtue of the sort of
person he was."
Author Lynne Cherry attended because Zinn was her close friend.
"Howard was one of the bravest people I've ever known," she said. "He
spoke the truth and gave us all power to speak what's right. He was
my role model, mentor and a wonderful man with the biggest heart
you've ever seen."
Stephanie Meyers, a School of Theology graduate student, came because
"A People's History" inspired her when she read it as a freshman.
"It was the first time I read an alternative version of how history
was formed and it changed my view of the world and who I want to be
in the world," she said.