James W. Loewen, who challenged the teaching of history, dies at 79

Patiently, he explained to his class: Blacks have never taken control of the southern states. They all had white governors, and all but ...


Patiently, he explained to his class: Blacks have never taken control of the southern states. They all had white governors, and all but one had white legislative majorities. Reconstruction governments did not “screw up”. They created the best constitutions the South has ever had and better governments than everyone else in the South in the 19th century. And the Whites did not turn things around by regaining control. The people who took matters into their own hands were white supremacists, and some were men from the Ku Klux Klans.

As to the problem of textbook distortions, Dr Loewen found that state review and purchasing committees controlled the use of public school books. The widely used history text for years in Mississippi described black people as complacent or troublemakers. He said black officials during Reconstruction were corrupt, and called the Ku Klux Klan a “secret social and fraternal club.” The lynching was not even mentioned.

Dr Loewen and historian Charles Sallis of Millsaps College have crafted an extraordinary response over several years, co-authoring and editing “Mississippi: Conflict and Change”(1974), a total revision of the historical past of the state. With an interdisciplinary approach less concerned with facts and linear dates, the book examined the social, political, and cultural components of Mississippi life throughout history.

He profiled politicians, blues singers, writers and others who have left their mark in different fields. It details the years of slavery, the civil war, reconstruction and the modern struggle for civil rights, the Supreme Court ruling against school segregation, and current accounts of race relations and conflict. He called the KKK a terrorist organization created to preserve a “southern way of life” and said black schoolchildren had been kept separate under false “separate but equal” doctrines.

Pantheon Books published “Mississippi: Conflict and Change,” which won the 1976 Lillian Smith Book Award for Best Southern Non-Fiction. But Mississippi officials have vetoed its use in schools, calling it an inflammatory racist. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Mississippi Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued in federal court on behalf of Dr. Loewen and his co-authors.

In 1980, a United States district court, citing First and Fourteenth Amendment freedoms, ruled in favor of Dr. Loewen and his colleagues. The American Library Association called it a victory for the “right to read freely.”

The acceptance of “Conflict and Change” and its rapid use by 26 of the state’s 150 school districts sparked what Dr. Loewen called a sea change in the Mississippi history books. The book remained in use there for six years. And over the next several years, many writers wrote, and the state accepted, more objective and comprehensive volumes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: James W. Loewen, who challenged the teaching of history, dies at 79
James W. Loewen, who challenged the teaching of history, dies at 79
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