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Fri, 02.06.1942

James Loewen, Writer, and Scociologist born

James Loewen

*James Loewen was born on this date in 1942.  He was a white-American sociologist, historian, and author.  James William Loewen was born in Decatur, Illinois, to Winifred and David F. Loewen. His mother was a librarian and teacher, and his father was a medical director and doctor.  He graduated in 1960 from MacArthur High School in Decatur and was a National Merit Scholar.

Loewen attended Carleton College in Minnesota. In 1963, as a junior, he spent a semester in Mississippi and experiencing southern culture led to his questioning what he had been taught about United States history.  In 1974, he co-authored a United States history textbook, Mississippi: Conflict and Change, which won the Lillian Smith Book Award for Best Southern Nonfiction in 1975.

However, the book was rejected for use in Mississippi's public schools by the Mississippi Textbook Purchasing Board because it was too controversial and placed too much focus on racial matters.  He challenged the Board's decision in a lawsuit, Loewen v. Turnipseed (1980).  The U.S. District Court ruled that the rejection of the textbook was not based on "justifiable grounds" and that the authors were denied their right to free speech and press.

He first taught in Mississippi at Tougaloo College.   For 20 years, Loewen taught about racism at the University of Vermont, where he was professor emeritus of sociology.  Loewen went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University based on his research in Mississippi.  Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution, where he studied and compared twelve American history textbooks then widely used throughout the United States.  In 1995, he published his findings in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. He concluded that textbook authors propagate factually false, Eurocentric, and mythologized views of history.

Loewen pointed out in the book that many of the distortions found in American history texts are "not even by the authors whose names grace the cover."  The book reflects Loewen's belief that history should not be taught as straightforward facts and dates to memorize but rather as an analysis of events' context and root causes. Loewen recommends that teachers use two or more textbooks so that students may realize the contradictions and ask questions. Since 1997, he has been a visiting professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

In 2005, Loewen wrote his next book critiquing American race relations, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. The book documents the histories of American towns where Blacks, Jews, and other minority groups were forced (or strongly encouraged) to leave before sundown to avoid racist violence threatened and perpetrated by the majority of white populations.  A review of the book in the Washington Post noted his claims regarding the number of communities that supported racial exclusion policies are both widely variable and vague. Sundown Towns garnered the illustrious Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. It also gained excellent reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The book inspired a nationwide online initiative to monitor and list sunset towns across America.

In 2010, Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta co-authored the book, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The Great Truth about the Lost Cause, an anthology containing a wide array of primary source documents about the Confederacy from the time of the American Civil War.  Loewen is researching a new book, Surprises on the Landscape: Unexpected Places That Get History Right. The book is planned as a follow-up to Lies Across America.  Surprises will call attention to accurate historical sites and provide honest representations of events.

His official website invites the public to comment on what towns and historical sites should be included in terms of presenting history correctly.  Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, which was republished in 2008.  In 2012, the book's publisher, The New Press, listed Lies My Teacher Told Me as their top all-time bestseller.  Jim Loewen died on August 19, 2021

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