BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Zoia Horn died Saturday in Oakland at age 96. She was, to understate it, an incredible woman who led an extraordinary life. I had the privilege and honor of working closely with her at the DataCenter, an Oakland, California-based research center, helping her edit the Center's People's Right To Know series of Press Profiles.
Zoia Horn was a librarian who went to prison "as a matter of conscience by refusing to testify against antiwar activists accused of a bizarre terrorist plot," the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its obituary.
The case revolved a government investigation of "a plot masterminded by the Rev. Philip Berrigan along with other current or former priests or nuns, to blow up tunnels beneath Washington, D.C., and then kidnap Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's national security advisor, and hold him until the U.S. stopped bombing Southeast Asia," reported the Chronicle.
The government had gotten wind of the plot through "an informant [Boyd Douglas] who had been in prison with Berrigan and then got a job as a library assistant, where he prevailed on Ms. Horn, a tax-withholding opponent of the Vietnam War, to host a meeting with some of Berrigan's friends."
The government's prosecutorial team "pressed Ms. Horn for information about the supposed plot," but "she refused to refused to testify at the 1972 trial of the so-called Harrisburg Seven and was led away in handcuffs. She was freed after 20 days when the jury deadlocked on the conspiracy charges, which were then dropped."
Horn stated: "To me it stands on: Freedom of thought — but government spying in homes, in libraries and universities inhibits and destroys this freedom."
At the time, the American Library Association refused to support Horn. Now, the organization gives an annual Zoia Horn Intellectual Freedom Award.
She was "the first librarian who spent time in jail for a value of our profession," said Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. Although the ALA did not support her at her trial, it "praised her after her release, and later elected her to its governing board," the Chronicle noted. The Intellectual Freedom Committee of the California Library Association annually awards the Zoia Horn Intellectual Freedom Award, which "honors Californian people, groups, and organizations that have made significant contributions to intellectual freedom in California."
After her trial and release from prison, Horn went on to become an outspoken advocate for academic and intellectual freedom.
The DataCenter, founded in 1977, to provide information for social justice advocates, investigative reporters and journalists, would not likely have had its extensive files on right to know issues, nor would it have pursued a Right To Know project had it not been for Zoia Horn.
Six years ago, on the occasion of Zoia's 90th birthday celebration, I wrote the following:
"Zoia Horn pioneered a new type of librarian: the archivist/activist. She set the standard for fighting an intrusive government that demanded its right to know the public's business by becoming a champion of the People's Right To Know.
"As Zoia's co-worker and one of the point persons on the Data Center's Right To Know Project we shared some very interesting times. Editing Zoia was not something she (or I) took lightly. And we had our battles.
"Over the years, however, we shared much more than an occasional scuffle over the introductory words to an R-T-K volume or which articles should appear in each edition. We shared the joy of producing a series of important collections on the people's right to know; we shared March birthday parties; we exchanged memories of times in New York City (as a college student I worked the stacks at the 42nd Street branch, while Zoia's first librarian job -- some twenty-one years earlier -- was in 1942 at the city's Jackson Square Branch); we shared a surprisingly ribald yet quasi-dignified (she, not me) sense of humor; and we shared a passion for information that serves and advances social justice, not information for information's sake.
"I would chat with Zoia about how my daughter Leah, born in 1980, was doing and later, she would proudly relay tales of her granddaughter.
"When Zoia attended Data Center staff meetings (she was the rare volunteer accorded that privilege – although one would be hard pressed to call it that) and when she spoke up, staff paid attention. When Zoia requested support for a project, she got what she asked for. After all, it was not possible to turn down the grand doyen of data!
"Zoia's written inscription to me on her memoir says it all for me: "To Bill," she wrote, "dear colleague, friend and great tease."
"And, the title of her book: "Zoia! Memoirs of Zoia Horn, Battler for the People's Right to Know" tells you, in small measure, about Zoia's extraordinary endeavors. (Her book can be read online here).
"Happy 90th birthday dear Zoia and many many happy and healthy birthdays to come."
A short tribute video to Zoia, made in 2010, is available here.
"She believed in the role of the library in a democracy," her daughter Catherine Marrion told the Chronicle. "People couldn't make intelligent decisions about how to govern themselves and make choices regarding social and political and economic issues unless they had the information."
"What I've always tried to do is to redefine the definition of censorship, broaden it, because censorship means barriers that restrict access to knowledge," Zoia told the Berkeley Daily Planet's Dorothy Bryant in a 2004 profile. "It includes pervasive prejudices like sexism and racism that distort judgment or simply screen out realities. It includes monopoly media cut out many facts and opinions. Censorship takes so many forms."
In her later years, she helped establish the American Library Association's Coalition on Government Information, which has worked with many organizations to provide access to essential information, spoke out vigorously and often against the Patriot Act, protested efforts to charge fees for library reference services, and defended a gay librarian in Oakland attacked for creating a display of gay library materials.
Zoia Horn was a champion for the people's right to know, and an inspiration to a generation of librarian/activists.