James W. Loewen was an acclaimed sociologist, historian and best-selling author whose mission was to overturn myths and misinformation that too often passes for U.S. history. A highly sought-after speaker and author, he engaged audiences with intelligence and humor, honing in on a range of topics encompassing U.S. history, multicultural education, civil rights, race relations, voting rights, law, and social science.
His gripping retelling of U.S. history, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong (1995) was the result of research comparing twelve U.S. history textbooks widely used throughout the country. Lies My Teacher Told Me is, in part, a telling critique of existing books but more importantly, a wonderful retelling of U.S history as it should - and could - be taught to students. The book has sold some one million copies and was the winner of the 1996 American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.
Loewen’s other books include The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The "Great Truths" about the "Lost Cause" (with Edward Sebesta), Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong, and Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism which was named “Distinguished Book of 2005” by the Gustavus Myers Foundation. The acclaimed book tells how thousands of communities in the United States excluded African, Chinese, Jewish, or Native Americans between 1890 and 1970s, and how some still do.
James recently shared that the University Press of Mississippi is bringing out a second edition of his book, Mississippi: Conflict & Change, 40 years after the first edition! James wrote, "We shall try to get a grant to provide free copies to every teacher of social studies and related fields in Mississippi high schools!"
On Thursday, August 19, 2021, James Loewen passed away peacefully with his family by his side. He was 79 years old. In his final days, he sent out an email to share ways his work will carry on:
"Already we can report important new developments: please go immediately to my new website, justice.tougaloo.edu. Look around. It’s not perfect, it needs work, but already it is 10x bigger than the old and 10x better. Please tell your friends about it and ask them to tell THEIR friends. We want to promote a flurry of activity, because it conveys much new material, about truth in history, Confederate monuments, Mississippi, sundown towns, and many other topics...I hope ALL of you will use my new website to cause social and intellectual change. With your help, we can all use the energy freed by BLM and George Floyd’s death to create a new America in which, as my signoff implies, accurate history prompts positive social change in the present, and such efforts lead to a nation willing to face its past with both eyes open wide."
"Telling the truth about the past helps cause justice in the present.
Achieving justice in the present helps us tell the truth about the past."
— James W. Loewen
Stephen Berrey, a professor at the University of Michigan who is continuing Jim’s work on sundown towns, is collecting reflections on the life and work of James Loewen for the new website. We invite you to share those by sending an email to [email protected]. You can also send an email to this same email address if you want to receive updates regarding critiques of textbooks, Confederate monuments and other examples of public history, Mississippi history, “standardized” testing, etc., putting “justice” as the subject. Put “Sundown” as the subject to receive developments that will help those of you learning about and working to change sundown towns.
Jim’s memorial will be at All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC, and broadcast live on Zoom.
Please wait until after September 20th, to visit all-souls.org for service information.