“If there is no struggle there is no progress.“

—Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), in an August 3, 1857, speech in Canandaigua, New York


On Thursday, November 8, Voices of a People's History of the United States—a Lincoln Center commission that commemorates Howard Zinn's influential book, A People's History of the United States—will bring to the David Rubenstein Atrium stage a remarkable group of actors and musicians who will share the words of people who challenged injustice and fought for the rights of women, workers, enslaved peoples, and others seeking their full measure of rights. This is the fourth year of the collaboration between Lincoln Center and the Maxine Greene High School for Imaginative Inquiry, and we're excited that our cast this year includes a student who will read the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Below are other excerpts from dissenters and visionaries whose stories Howard worked so hard to highlight throughout his life, all of which can be found in the book that he and I edited, Voices of a People's History of the United States, on which this performance series is based.

Read more about the project.

“I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power.“

—From "The Problem is Civil Obedience" (November 1970 speech) by author and political activist Howard Zinn (1922–2010)

“The more I think about, the more I realize how little you learn about American history. It's just what they want you to know.“

—From "Then Came the War" (1991) by Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist, feminist, and author who was among 120,000 Japanese Americans rounded up and placed in detention camps during World War II

“I shall neither fawn or cringe before any party, nor stoop to beg them for my rights…. I am here to demand my rights.“

—From a September 3, 1868, address entitled "On the Eligibility of Colored Members to Seats in the Georgia Legislature" by Henry McNeal Turner (1834–1915)

“While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

—From a 1918 statement by Socialist leader Eugene Debs (1855–1926) when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for sedition as a result of his opposition to World War I

“Following the strike, the auto worker became a different human being. The women that had participated actively became a different type of woman, a different type from any we had ever known anywhere in the labor movement.”

—From a 1995 statement by Genora (Johnson) Dollinger, a participant in the 1936–37 United Auto Workers sit-down strike in a General Motors factory in Flint, Michigan

“This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation.”

—From the 1898 essay "Characteristics of the Early Factory Girls" by Harriet Hanson Robinson, who started working in a Lowell, Massachusetts, textile mill at the age of ten

“When I look back now, I really think we had a lot of guts. But I didn’t even stop to think about it at the time. It was something that had to be done. We had a goal. That’s what we felt had to be done and we did it.”

—From the 1973 remembrance "Back of the Yards" by Vicky Starr ("Stella Nowicki"), a labor activist in the meat-packing factories of Chicago in the 1930s

“We must be united.”

—From the Shawnee leader Tecumseh's 1811 speech to the Osages about the struggle against colonization

Writer and activist Anthony Arnove cofounded Voices of a People's History of the United States with Howard Zinn (1922–2010).