Howard Zinn Papers, 1956-1970

Summary Information
Title: Howard Zinn Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1956-1970

  • Zinn, Howard, 1922-
Call Number: Mss 588; Micro 868

Quantity: 1.2 c.f. (3 archives boxes) and 3 reels of microfilm (35mm)

Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Papers of Howard Zinn, an historian and social activist, primarily concerning his research on the civil rights movement and his personal involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s. Included are research notes, correspondence, personal writings, clippings, and SNCC reports and press releases. Much of this material pertains directly to Zinn's research for two reports on Albany, Georgia, published in 1962 by the Southern Regional Council, and to Zinn's book SNCC: The New Abolitionists, published in 1965. There is also correspondence concerning Zinn's advisory role to SNCC as well as extensive notes taken at two key SNCC meetings in 1963. Articles by Zinn, correspondence, and reference files pertaining to black power and SNCC's position on Vietnam document SNCC's evolution in the period 1965-1968.


There is a restriction on use of parts of this material; see the Administrative/Restriction Information portion of this finding aid for details.

Language: English

URL to cite for this finding aid:
 ↑ Bookmark this ↑


Historian and social activist Howard Zinn was born in New York City on August 24, 1922, the son of Edward and Jennie Zinn. Following military service as a bombardier-navigator in the European Theater during World War II, Zinn completed his undergraduate education at New York University, receiving a B.A. in 1951 in history and English. The following year, Columbia University granted him an M.A. in history and economics, and in 1958 a Ph.D. in history and political science. During the period 1953-1956, he also taught as an instructor at Upsala College and Brooklyn College.

Zinn moved to Atlanta in 1956 to become chair of the department of history and political science at Spelman College, a predominantly black college in the Atlanta University system. Zinn's years in Atlanta coincided with the burgeoning southern civil rights movement, with which Zinn became increasingly involved as a participant and historian. In 1959 he worked with black and white Atlantans to desegregate public facilities and published several articles on civil rights topics for such magazines as Harpers and The Crisis.

In the early 1960s, Zinn became the unofficial historian of, as well as adviser to, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the organization which had been formed in the spring of 1960 to coordinate the rapidly expanding southern protest movement launched in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960 when four black college students sat in at a Woolworth lunch counter. In late 1961, the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Council asked him to research and write a study of the Albany (Georgia) Movement, organized by black community leaders and SNCC field workers. Zinn's research resulted in two reports on the Albany Movement published in 1962, detailing the consolidated efforts to end segregation in that southwestern Georgia city.

Subsequently Zinn did further research on SNCC and authored the book SNCC: The New Abolitionists, initially published in 1964 and expanded slightly in the 1965 edition to include a discussion of the events in Mississippi during the historic summer of 1964. Zinn sat on SNCC's executive committee, but as an adviser he did not view his role as that of a primary decision-maker within the organization. With SNCC's evolution toward Black Power after 1964, Zinn's direct involvement with SNCC, like that of other white supporters, diminished, although he continued to write sympathetically about it. He viewed SNCC's increasing militancy as an expression of a radical analysis of American society, rather than a racist development.

Zinn's personal and scholarly interest in mass movements continued through the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, his book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was published. Almost all his other books deal with the history or the philosophy of social activism: La Guardia in Congress, 1959; The Southern Mystique, 1964; New Deal Thought (editor), 1965; Disobedience and Democracy, 1968; The Politics of History, 1970; The Pentagon Papers, Critical Essays (editor, with Noam Chomsky), 1972; Postwar America, 1973; Justice in Everyday Life (editor), 1973; and A People's History of the United States, 1980. Since 1964, Zinn has been a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at Boston University.

Scope and Content Note

The collection is almost exclusively Zinn's papers related to his research and involvement in the civil rights movement. Documentation includes research notes, reports, correspondence, drafts of articles, mimeographed material, and clippings. Overall the collection is most useful in providing a day-by-day account of the struggle by blacks for equal rights in Albany, Georgia, 1961-62, and in less detail, a similar record of organizing in Mississippi, 1962-64. As an on-the-scene historian of SNCC, Zinn occasionally took detailed notes at meetings, providing insight into the personalities and conflicts of the organization. The papers are arranged in five series: Personal Papers; Albany, Georgia, Research Papers; SNCC: The New Abolitionists Research Papers; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Papers; and General Civil Rights Papers. All records are available both in original paper form and on microfilm.

The series PERSONAL PAPERS is comprised of a small amount of biographical material and correspondence, most relating to Zinn's attempt to get grant support for academic research and writing during 1961 and for a lectureship in American history in the Soviet Union for 1962-1963. There is also a 1962 exchange of letters with Tom Hayden concerning the Kennedy administration's approach to civil rights.

ALBANY, GEORGIA, RESEARCH PAPERS reflect to a great extent Zinn's own arrangement of his notes and research materials for two published studies on Albany: Albany, A Special Report of the Southern Regional Council, and Albany: A Study in National Responsibility. A copy of the first publication is included in the papers, as is a typescript of the second report. Notes and clippings comprise what Zinn labels “background” and “chronology” files. There is also correspondence on the Albany Movement indictments which document Zinn's personal efforts to seek legal aid for the defendants.

SNCC: THE NEW ABOLITIONISTS RESEARCH PAPERS series is the most extensive in the collection. Since several files correspond closely to specific chapters in Zinn's book, his arrangement within a particular file was adhered to as much as possible. Files on the Freedom Rides, Greenwood, Hattiesburg, and sit-ins correspond the most directly.

Gloria Richardson's field reports to SNCC from Cambridge, Maryland, provide particularly good documentation on the organizing work of the Cambridge Non-violent Action Committee, 1962-63. Papers of note in the Mississippi file are: 1) a confidential report by Arthur Waskow on the Freedom Democratic Party's attempt to unseat the regular Mississippi delegation at the Atlantic City Democratic National Convention in August, 1964; 2) minutes of a SNCC staff meeting, June 9-ll, 1964, on the eve of the Summer Project; and 3) Zinn's notes from a November 1963 staff meeting in which white participation in SNCC was emotionally and extensively debated.

Primarily pertaining to SNCC and Zinn's association with it after the publication of his book, STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE PAPERS document Zinn's advisory role to the organization, including his attempt to set up an educational program for SNCC staff away from the site of their field work. Files on Black Power and the debate over SNCC's radicalism and relationship with the Old Left are the most substantive materials within this series. Notes taken by Zinn at a SNCC executive committee meeting in Atlanta in December 1963 document the committee's internal discussion of Communist participation in the civil rights movement.

The final series, GENERAL CIVIL RIGHTS PAPERS, consists primarily of reference files. There are, however, correspondence, notes, and articles on the desegregation of public facilities in Atlanta, including efforts to desegregate the public library, with which Zinn and Whitney Young, then dean of the Atlanta University School of Social Work, became involved. The series also includes transcripts of extensive interviews conducted by an unidentified interviewer during 1963-1965 with several major participants in the southern civil rights movement: Marion Barry, Jim Forman, Jesse Harris, Aaron Henry, Bill Higgs, Tim Jenkins, Al Lowenstein, Bob Parris Moses, L. T. Smith, and Zinn himself.

Related Material

The Historical Society's social action collections include extensive documentation on the southern civil rights movement which complements Zinn's papers. The most substantive body of SNCC records are, however, at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Use Restrictions

Copyright to the play Emma and to other published writings in the collection is retained by Howard Zinn until January 1, 2022, at which time copyright and renewal rights become the property of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Howard Zinn, Boston, Massachusetts, 1966, 1980. Accession Number: M66-451, M80-166

Processing Information

Processed and prepared for microfilming by Sarah Cooper and Joanne Hohler, April 1981.

Contents List
Micro 868/Mss 588
Series: Personal Papers
Reel/Frame   1/1
Box/Folder   1/1
Biographical material, 1964, undated
Reel/Frame   1/3
Box/Folder   1/2
Correspondence, 1959-1963, undated
Series: Albany, Georgia, Research Papers
Albany, A Special Report
Reel/Frame   1/37
Box/Folder   1/3
“Background,” 1958-1961
Reel/Frame   1/70
Box/Folder   1/4
“Chronology,” December 1961
Reel/Frame   1/94
Box/Folder   1/5
Correspondence, 1962
Reel/Frame   1/110
Box/Folder   1/6
“Press Coverage,” 1961-1962
Reel/Frame   1/124
Box/Folder   1/7
Report, Albany, A Special Report of the Southern Regional Council, 1962
Albany: A Study in National Responsibility
Reel/Frame   1/161
Box/Folder   1/8
“Chronology,” 1962, January-August
Reel/Frame   1/222
Box/Folder   1/9
Clippings, 1962-1963
Reel/Frame   1/258
Box/Folder   1/10
Correspondence, 1962-1963
Reel/Frame   1/287
Box/Folder   1/11
Manuscript, “Albany, Georgia” Albany, A Study in National Responsibility
Reel/Frame   1/334
Box/Folder   1/12
Albany Movement indictments, 1963-1964
Reel/Frame   1/383
Box/Folder   1/13
Other writings, 1962
Series: SNCC: The New Abolitionists Research Papers
Reel/Frame   1/412
Box/Folder   1/14
Biographies and early history, 1960-1963
Reel/Frame   1/489
Box/Folder   1/15
Correspondence, 1963-1965
Field Reports
Reel/Frame   1/507
Box/Folder   1/16
Cambridge, Maryland, 1962-1963
Reel/Frame   1/574
Box/Folder   1/17
Fayette County, Tennessee, 1963, July 20
Reel/Frame   1/578
Box/Folder   1/18
Savannah, Georgia, 1963, June-July
Reel/Frame   1/592
Box/Folder   1/19
Freedom Rides, 1961
Reel/Frame   1/617
Box/Folder   1/20
Aaron Henry Campaign for Governor, 1963
Reel/Frame   1/650
Box/Folder   1/21-22
“Chronology,” 1963-1964
Freedom Democratic Party
Reel/Frame   1/871
Box/Folder   1/23
Atlantic City Democratic National Convention Challenge, August, 1964
Reel/Frame   1/948
Box/Folder   2/1
Congressional Challenge, 1964-1965
Reel/Frame   2/1
Box/Folder   2/2
Freedom Schools, 1964
Reel/Frame   2/109
Box/Folder   2/3
Greenwood, 1963-1964
Reel/Frame   2/187
Box/Folder   2/4
Hattiesburg, 1962-1964
Reel/Frame   2/233
Box/Folder   2/5
Hearings, Washington, D.C., 1964
Reel/Frame   2/316
Box/Folder   2/6-7
Summer Project, 1964
Reel/Frame   2/521
Box/Folder   2/8
Sit-ins, 1960
Reel/Frame   2/574
Box/Folder   2/9
Southwest Georgia, 1962-1963
Reel/Frame   2/603
Box/Folder   2/10
Whites in the Movement, 1963
Series: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Papers
Reel/Frame   2/672
Box/Folder   2/11
Administration, 1963-1965
Reel/Frame   2/716
Box/Folder   2/12
Advisory, 1963-1967
Reel/Frame   2/760
Box/Folder   2/13-15
Black Power, 1965-1968, undated
Reel/Frame   2/942
Box/Folder   3/1
Economic issues, 1964-1965
Reel/Frame   2/956
Box/Folder   3/2
Education, 1964
Reel/Frame   3/1
Box/Folder   3/3
Press releases, 1967
Reel/Frame   3/32
Box/Folder   3/4
Radicalism, 1963-1965
Reel/Frame   3/54
Box/Folder   3/5
Vietnam War opposition, 1965-1967
Series: General Civil Rights Papers
Reel/Frame   3/119
Box/Folder   3/6
Public facilities desegregation, 1957-1959
Reel/Frame   3/156
Box/Folder   3/7
Sit-ins, 1961-1964
Reel/Frame   3/262
Box/Folder   3/8
Birmingham, 1961-1963
Reel/Frame   3/292
Box/Folder   3/9
Georgia politics, 1956-1959
Reel/Frame   3/300
Box/Folder   3/10
Interview transcripts, 1963-1965
Reel/Frame   3/419
Box/Folder   3/11
Miscellany, 1963-1970
Reel/Frame   3/502
Box/Folder   3/12
The Nation Centennial, 1965
Reel/Frame   3/549
Box/Folder   3/13
Otis W. Smith incident, Fort Valley, Georgia, 1958
Reel/Frame   3/554
Box/Folder   3/14
Voting Rights Act, 1965