The Camden 28

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Excerpt: From the Trial of the Camden 28

Howard Zinn - April 26, 1973

Zinn's Background

(Jury present.)

THE COURT: Do you have the witness ready?

Howard ZinnHoward Zinn

MS. RIDOLFI: Today we would like to call our brother Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN, having been duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:


Q. Howard, what is your occupation?

A. I am a historian. I am a professor of political science at Boston University.

Q. What is your educational background?

A. Well, I went to high school. Then I didn't go to school again for a while. I worked at various jobs, went into the Air Force and then worked again in various jobs. Then when I was old I went to school under the GI Bill of Rights and got a bachelor's degree at New York University. I went to Columbia, did graduate work there, got a master's degree at Columbia University in history and political science. Then I got a PhD. at Columbia University in history and political science.

A few years after that I did some postdoctoral work at Harvard University. I was a [undecipherable] in the Center of southeast Asian History, studied Chinese history and east Asian history in that time. That is about my formal education.

Howard Zinn served as a bombadier in the Air Force during World War II.
Howard Zinn served as a bombadier in the Air Force during World War II.

Q. What employment have you held in the past?

A. Well, I mentioned that after high school I went to work. I was a shipyard worker for about three years before I went into the Air Force, and then after I got out, I went back to the shipyard. I worked at various jobs for a couple of years. Worked on the lower east side of New York City for the Housing Authority.

I went to school, and after I did my graduate work I began teaching and I taught history and political science for three years at [undecipherable] College in East Orange, New Jersey.

Then I went down south to Atlanta, Georgia, and I was offered a job as chairman of the history department at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, which is a black college. We used to call it a Negro college in Atlanta, Georgia.

I was chairman of the history department there, professor of history for seven years in Atlanta from 1956 to 1963.

Then for a while there I also held a job as director of the non-Western studies program of the Atlanta University Center, which is a group of Negro colleges in Atlanta.

Then I came North and I got a job as professor of political science at Boston University, where I have been for the last seven or eight years.

[I've been] involved in the Civil Rights Movement and [have written] about it, so I've lectured a lot on the Civil Rights Movement and on the race question in the South and in the North and that sort of thing.

And then when the war in Vietnam escalated, I began doing a lot of lecturing about the war, about war in general [and] about the war in Vietnam in particular.

Reverends Philip and Daniel Berrigan of the Catonsville Nine on the cover of TIME magazine on January 25, 1971.
Reverends Philip and Daniel Berrigan of the Catonsville Nine on the cover of TIME magazine on January 25, 1971. Cover designed by Jim Sharpe. Read the cover story

Q. Howard, have you yourself been involved in any movements of civil disobedience?

A. Well, I mentioned that when I was teaching in the south, it was hard not to be involved with my students. I began teaching at Spelman College in 1955. Atlanta was a totally segregated city. My students began engaging in civil rights disobedience. They went to the public library in Atlanta and they tried to take books out of the Atlanta Public Library, and I discovered they couldn't take books out of the Atlanta Public Library because the Atlanta Public Library was for whites only. So we decided together as a class that we would go to the library anyway and just go there again and again -- and this was a kind of beginning action, I guess, of civil disobedience.

And then I remember visiting as a class, you know, how in school, you go on what they call field trips -- always a good way to get out of school -- and I remember I thought that we would go on a nice field trip in Atlanta, and that my students and I would go and visit the Georgia State Legislature in action.

And so I and my students went to Atlanta, went to the general assembly and discovered that the balcony in the general assembly was segregated, you know, blacks in this little section, and we decided that we would sit where we wanted to sit. And that was an action of civil disobedience.

And then in 1969, the sit-ins began. They began in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then students in Atlanta and my students began to get the same idea. We can't go into restaurants, we can't get a cup of coffee, whites only. We'll -- We'll break the law. We'll sit down and we'll ask for a cup of coffee and we won't move until we get it.

And so in Atlanta my students began doing that and I began sitting in with them -- although it was easier for me to get a cup of coffee. But we [did this] together, and sit-ins grew in Atlanta, so I became very much involved with my students in these things.

And then I became a member of the Executive Board of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. It was just one other person on the executive board who was sort of considered older than the rest. That was a black woman named Ella Baker. We became involved with them. So I began going around to do several things ----

MR. BARRY: Excuse me.


MR. BARRY: Your Honor, I've been listening to this testimony rather patiently, and I'm wondering where it's all leading us. I would like at this time to ask for an offer of proof. What does it have to do with the events between June and August of 1971 here in Camden?

MS. RIDOLFI: Your Honor, this is an offer of proof. What he's talking about are his experiences which are all reflected in his writings, and he's just outlining -- he's not going into them in detail.

MR. BARRY: Of that I have no doubt, Your Honor, but how does that relate to this draft board raid? That's why I'm asking for an offer of proof.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Your Honor, I may be mistaken, but I think that Mr. Zinn is still in the area of his qualifications -- I believe that he's an expert on the subject of civil disobedience and he's qualifying them.

THE COURT: All right. I think the jury knows what we are about here. If they don't [find it] useful, they just reject it. I'll allow it.

MR. BARRY: Well, I think -- excuse me. I think we can concede, Your Honor, that Professor Zinn will qualify as an expert witness and I think it's now appropriate to ask for some proof.

THE COURT: Overruled. Could you hurry along for us, though, Professor?

THE WITNESS: Okay. I'm sorry. Those were years. I'm pressing them into minutes.

A: (continuing) Where am I? We were talking about movements in civil -- I'll just say very quickly that from Atlanta, involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, I began both being involved in the movements of civil disobedience and beginning to write about them. I went to southwest Georgia, to Albany, Georgia. I went to Mississippi. I went to Alabama, Thelma, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I was involved in civil rights action in these various places in the deep South and wrote about them.

Members of the Camden 28 were profiled in a newspaper article. Paul Couming (second from left) said he was influenced by Howard Zinn's writing.

MS. RIDOLFI: Okay. I [think it] would... help, your Honor, just to add to the connection between Howard and the defense, the defendants who have read his books [and] have been influenced by them who can stand up.

(Eleven defendants stand.)

MR. COUMING: I read the whole thing.

MR. KATRYS: How about the lawyers that have read it?
(Mr. Breeze, Mr. Kairys, Mr. Stolaw and Mr. Loving, stand.)

THE COURT: I'm a lawyer and you'll notice I did not stand.

MR. GOOD: You didn't read them or you weren't influenced by them?

THE COURT: All right, It's almost lunchtime.

MS. RIDOLFI: I think it's a good time to break because the offer of proof is completed.

THE COURT: All right. 2 o'clock ladies and gentlemen.


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