[Howard Zinn raw #24]

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Denis Mueller interviews Howard Zinn at his office at Boston University. They discuss WWII, SNCC, the Civil Rights movement, and the Ludlow Massacre.

0:39 Howard Zinn discusses President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the political situation at the beginning of the Great Depression. He brings up the actions of the Bonus Army in 1932 and the strikes taking place all across the country in the early 1930s. In light of this societal crisis, Roosevelt’s reforms, rather than undermine capitalism, worked to save it, Zinn says. “In fact, not all of the rich, not all of the capitalist class, were opposed to Roosevelt. Because there were a number of very important members of the capitalist class who understood that Roosevelt had to make reforms, had to do something in order to save the system.

6:01 Zinn talks about the advent of the CIO in the 1930s. He says they broke with traditional organizing strategies and organized workers by industry rather than craft (industrial unionism). He speaks about the success of John L. Lewis and how people thought it would be impossible to organize workers at Ford and General Motors. Zinn says that the adoption of sitdown strikes by strikers throughout 1937 played a major role in winning and consolidating power for organized labor.

10:20 Zinn tells the story of learning about the Ludlow Massacre from a Woodie Guthrie song, reading “American Labor Struggles” by Sam Yellen, visiting to the New York Public Library and reading volumes of testimony from the┬áHouse Committee on Mines and Mining and Senate Commission on Industrial Relations.

12:47 Zinn recounts how as a shipyard worker, he was exempt from inscription, but as a politically engaged young person opposed to fascism, he felt compelled to enlist regardless, so he joined the Air Force.

15:35 Zinn tells the story of how he ended up teaching at Spelman College in 1956.

17:57 Zinn talks about the early history of the Civil Rights Movement and SNCC. He says that sit-ins, once they were covered by the press, inspired more sit-ins and this coalesced into a movement. Black college students in Atlanta and throughout the South had organized their own sit-ins and wanted to coordinate further activities. They were brought together by Ella Baker into what became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

21:03 Zinn explains that the FBI, Department of Justice, and Attorney General have broad authority to intervene and protect people, but throughout the Civil Rights movement and Freedom Rides, when police and bystanders attacked peaceful demonstrators, they did nothing and ignored the rights of members of the Civil Rights movement. “What people in the Civil Rights movement understood after awhile was that they did not have friends in Washington D.C. And this was very contrary to what the rest of the country thought. The rest of the country thought, ‘The South is racist, but the U.S. Government is on the side of justice.’ Not true. The U.S. Government was collaborating with the racist South. John F. Kennedy as president was appointing racist judges in the South, who then sat in on these cases of Civil Rights demonstrators. The Justice Department under Robert Kennedy was standing by, watching while people were getting beat up and while federal law was being violated.” He talks about time and time again seeing people having their rights violated and federal forces doing nothing about it.

26:13 Zinn talks about the violent response to efforts to register voters in Selma, Alabama in 1963. He says that the violence witnessed nation-wide against the marchers in Selma in 1965 was hardly an isolated incident in Alabama.

31:02 Zinn elaborates on the history of the Ludlow Massacre. He talks about the exploitation and brutal work conditions of the mines of southern Colorado. He discusses the naked violence with which attempts at labor organizing were met. However, after a young organizer was killed in cold blood, the workers decided to organize themselves and go on strike. This strike escalated into armed struggle when the mine owners called in “detectives” to break the strike, but they were unsuccessful. Following this, the mine owners got the governor to send in the National Guard to break the strike.

 

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