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FBI Admits Probing ‘Radical’ Historian Zinn for Criticizing Bureau

Daniel Tencer

FBI files show bureau may have tried to get Zinn fired from Boston University for his political opinions

who knew of the dissident historian Howard Zinn would not be surprised
that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI kept tabs on him for decades during the Cold

But in a release of documents pertaining to Zinn, the bureau
admitted that one of its investigations into the left-wing academic was
prompted not by suspicion of criminal activity, but by Zinn's criticism
of the FBI's record on civil rights investigations.

"In 1949, the
FBI opened a domestic security investigation on Zinn," the bureau
states. "The Bureau noted Zinn's activities in what were called
Communist Front Groups and received informant reports that Zinn was an
active member of the CPUSA; Zinn denied ever being a member when he was
questioned by agents in the 1950s.

"In the 1960s, the Bureau took another look at Zinn on account of his criticism of the FBI's civil rights investigations."

On Friday, the FBI released a 243-page file on Zinn, who died in January
at age 87. The release describes the historian as "radical." The
documents show the bureau taking an active interest in Zinn since the
late 1940s, when he was a student at New York University. The interest
continued through the 1950s, as Zinn worked on his PhD at Columbia

When the FBI again took an interest in Zinn in the
1960s, documents show the bureau evidently tried to have the historian
fired from his job as professor at Boston University.


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In a document from the Boston FBI office (see PDF file here),
an FBI "source," whose name was redacted from the publicly released
documents, was quoted as being outraged over Zinn's comment at a protest
that the US had become a "police state" and that prosecutions of Black
Panther Party members were creating "political prisoners."

bureau's Boston office then indicated it wanted to help the source in
his or her campaign to unseat Zinn. "[The] Boston [office] proposes
under captioned program with Bureau permission to furnish [name redacted] with public source data regarding Zinn's numerous anti-war activities ... in an effort to back [redacted] efforts for his removal."

The bureau's response to the request does not appear to have been included in the released documents.

Story reporters will continue to mine through the documents for more
details. If you want to help, you can view the FBI files here, here and here (PDF). Send us what you find to

FBI notes that its investigations of Zinn -- three in total, over 25
years -- "ended in 1974, and no further investigation into Zinn or his
activities was made by the FBI."

Zinn had harsh words for the FBI during his academic career. In a paper
published not long before his death, Zinn said the best thing the
public could do to curb the FBI's powers was to "continue exposing

Of the FBI, he said, "They don't like social movements.
They work for the establishment and the corporations and the politicos
to keep things as they are. And they want to frighten and chill the
people who are trying to change things. So the best defense against them
and resistance against them is simply to keep on fighting back, to keep
on exposing them."

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