This Day in History

Feb. 11, 1963: Howard Zinn Debates Fulton Lewis III About HUAC

Time Periods: 20th Century, People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, US Foreign Policy

Howard Zinn with students in 1960. Source: Spelman College Archives

On February 11, 1963, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Howard Zinn debated Fulton Lewis III, a journalist and member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, on the question of “Shall the House Committee on Un-American Activities Be Abolished?”

HowardZinn.org offers a full transcript along with a three-part recording of the 150-minute debate.

Howard Zinn, excerpted:

The House on American Activities Committee is contributing to the atmosphere of oppression. And it is by focusing on teachers, and professionals, and writers, and people who 10 years ago were members of the Communist Party, or people who sign these petitions, or people who join that organization, it’s diverting us from the job of constructing a society which is free, which is more just, and a society which is the only kind that can be firm, and strong, and subsist in a world as difficult as this one…

No people really are foolish enough to relinquish their freedom voluntarily. But most people, well, most people will relinquish their freedom, but all they need is an excuse. They need a reason. And throughout history, whenever the freedom of people was taken away, these people were given a reason, and that reason has always been the same. The reason has been security. This reason was given in Germany, this reason has been given in the Soviet Union, this reason is given in every state where freedom is suppressed. “It is necessary for our internal security.” This is the basic false, terrible premise of the House on American Activities Committee.

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