Howard Zinn Papers, 1956-1970

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.