James W. Loewen

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James W. Loewen
James William Loewen

(1942-02-06)February 6, 1942
DiedAugust 19, 2021(2021-08-19) (aged 79)
Other namesJim Loewen, James Loewen
Alma materHarvard University (PhD)
Carleton College
MacArthur High School (1960)
Occupation(s)Historian, author, sociologist
Organization(s)University of Vermont
The Catholic University of America
Known forLies My Teacher Told Me (1995); Lies Across America (1999); Sundown Towns (2005); The Mississippi Chinese (1971)
RelativesWinifred (Gore) Loewen (mother)
David F. Loewen (father)

James William Loewen (February 6, 1942 – August 19, 2021) was an American sociologist, historian, and author. He was best known for his 1995 book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. A 2005 book, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, galvanized a national effort to develop a list of sundown towns.

Early life[edit]

Loewen was born in Decatur, Illinois, on February 6, 1942.[1] His father, David, was a medical director and physician from an immigrant Mennonite community; his mother, Winifred (Gore), was a librarian and teacher.[1][2] Loewen was raised in Decatur, where he attended MacArthur High School and was a National Merit Scholar as a graduate in 1960.[1]

Loewen attended Carleton College. In 1963, as a junior, he spent a semester in Mississippi, an experience in a different culture that led him to question what he had been taught about United States history. He was intrigued by learning about the unique place of nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants and their descendants in Mississippi culture, commonly thought of as biracial. Loewen went on to earn a PhD in sociology from Harvard University based on his research on Chinese Americans in Mississippi.[3]


Loewen first taught in Mississippi at Tougaloo College, a historically black college[4] founded by the American Missionary Association after the American Civil War. For 20 years, Loewen taught about racism at the University of Vermont, where he was professor emeritus of sociology in 1995.[5] Starting in 1997, he was a visiting professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.[4] He was selected for honoris causa membership in Omicron Delta Kappa in 1997 at SUNY Plattsburgh.

First Amendment battle[edit]

Loewen co-edited a Mississippi history textbook with Charles Sallis,[6] Mississippi: Conflict & Change (1974), which won the Lillian Smith Book Award for Best Southern Nonfiction in 1975. The book was rejected for use in Mississippi's public schools by the Mississippi Textbook Purchasing Board on the grounds that it was too controversial and placed too much focus on racial matters.[1][2][7]

Loewen challenged the board decision in a lawsuit, Loewen v. Turnipseed (1980).[8][9] Judge Orma R. Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi 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.[10]

The American Library Association considers Loewen v. Turnipseed, 488 F. Supp. 1138 (N.D. Miss. 1980), a historic First Amendment case and one of the foundations of the "right to read freely."[1]

Lies My Teacher Told Me[edit]

External videos
video icon Booknotes interview with Louwen on Lies My Teacher Told Me, March 26, 1995, C-SPAN

Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution, where he studied and compared 12 American history textbooks then widely used throughout the United States.[3] He published his findings in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (1995), which was republished in 2007 and 2018.[11] He concluded that textbook authors propagate factually false, Eurocentric, and mythologized views of history. Loewen points 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."[12] In March 2012, the book's publisher, The New Press, listed Lies My Teacher Told Me as their top all-time bestseller.[13] The book reflects Loewen's belief that history should not be taught as straightforward facts and dates to memorize, but rather as analysis of the context and root causes of events.[3]

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition[edit]

Rebecca Stefoff, known for her adaptation of Howard Zinn's bestseller A People's History of the United States for young readers, makes Lies My Teacher Told Me accessible for younger readers in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers Edition (2019).[2][14]

Teaching What Really Happened[edit]

Loewen built on Lies My Teacher Told Me in Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks & Get Students Excited About Doing History (Teachers College Press, 2009). The first four chapters lay out an argument for how history should be taught at the elementary and secondary levels,[3] while chapters 5–10 address teaching specific issues in history.[15]

Sundown Towns[edit]

External videos
video icon Presentation by Loewen on Sundown Towns, October 23, 2005, C-SPAN

Continuing his interest in racism in the United States, Loewen wrote Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, which was released in 2005. The book documents the histories of sundown towns, which are towns where African Americans, Jews, and other minority groups were forced (or strongly encouraged) to leave before sundown to avoid racist violence by the towns' white residents.[3]

Loewen wrote about sundown towns throughout his career, including in Lies Across America, in which he called the affluent suburb of Darien, Connecticut, a modern-day de facto sundown town.[16]

Sundown Towns won the 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 the USA.[17] A review in The Washington Post argued that even though Loewen dedicated an entire chapter to research methodology, his statements regarding the number of communities that supported racial exclusion policies were widely variable and vague. "This vagueness, along with Loewen's almost evangelical passion for his material, raises questions of credibility – or at least of potential overstatement."[18]

Later writings[edit]

In 2010, Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta co-wrote 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 pertaining to the Confederacy from the time of the American Civil War.[19]

Loewen's last published book, Up a Creek, With a Paddle: Tales of Canoeing and Life, is a memoir in which he returned to his life’s work and addressed the origins of racism and inequality, the theory of history, and the ties between the two.[20]

Before his death, Loewen began researching for a new book, Surprises on the Landscape: Unexpected Places That Get History Right. The book was planned as follow-up to Lies Across America, which noted historically inaccurate or misleading historical markers and sites across the United States. Surprises was planned to call attention to historical sites that are accurate and provide honest representations of events. His official website invited the public to comment on what towns and historical sites should be included in terms of presenting history right.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Loewen married his first wife, Patricia Hanrahan, in 1968. Together, they had two children. They divorced in 1975. In 2006, he married Susan Robertson,[1] and they remained married until his death.[2]

Loewen died on August 19, 2021, at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 79, and had been diagnosed with Stage IV bladder cancer two years prior to his death.[1][2]


Loewen has published the following works:[4]

  • Loewen, James W. (1971). The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White (second ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-57660-5.
  • Loewen, James W.; Sallis, Charles, eds. (1974). Mississippi: Conflict & Change. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-394-48964-3.[7]
  • Loewen, James W. (1982). Social Science in the Courtroom. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company.
  • Loewen, James W. (1992). The Truth About Columbus. New Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-008-9.
  • Loewen, James W. (1995). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-100-0.
  • Loewen, James W. (1999). Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong. New York: The New Press. ISBN 978-0-684-87067-0.
  • Loewen, James W. (2005). Sundown Towns. New York: The New Press. ISBN 156584887X.
  • Loewen, James W. (2010). Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History. New York: Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-5948-6.
  • Loewen, James W.; Sebesta, Edward H. (2010). The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The "Great Truth" about the "Lost Cause". Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-60473-218-4.
  • Loewen, James W. (February 26, 2011). "Five myths about why the South seceded". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  • Loewen, James W.; Stefoff, Rebecca (2019). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers' Edition. New York: The New Press. ISBN 978-1-62097-469-8.
  • Loewen, James W. (2020). Up a Creek, With a Paddle: Tales of Canoeing and Life. Oakland, California: PM Press. ISBN 978-1-62963-827-0.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g McFadden, Robert D. (August 20, 2021). "James W. Loewen, Who Challenged How History Is Taught, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Italie, Hillel (August 20, 2021). "James W. Loewen, wrote 'Lies My Teacher Told Me,' dead at 79". Associated Press. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "History and Social Justice - Inspired by James W. Loewen, sociologist, historian, citizen". Tougaloo College. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Cheney, Matt. "Biography of James W. Loewen" Archived August 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. University of Illinois. Retrieved October 16, 2010.
  5. ^ Loewen, James W. (July 1, 2015). "Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ Charles Sallis, 89, Dies; Upended the Teaching of Mississippi History, The New York Times, February 19, 2024
  7. ^ a b Nossiter, Adam (February 16, 2024). "Charles Sallis, 89, Dies; Upended the Teaching of Mississippi History". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  8. ^ "Loewen v. Turnipseed". Child Rights International Network (CRIN). January 2, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  9. ^ Evergreen Communications Office (May 16, 2008). "James Loewen to Talk about History's Omissions and Errors at Evergreen Graduation". www.evergreen.edu. The Evergreen State College. Archived from the original on August 21, 2021. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  10. ^ "Notable First Amendment court cases" Archived December 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. American Library Association. Retrieved October 16, 2010.
  11. ^ Loewen, James W. (October 16, 2007). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0743296281.
  12. ^ "Oh What a Web Textbooks Weave..." (Interview). Interviewed by Dan Falcone. SpeakOut. August 12, 2013. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  13. ^ "The New Press Index" (PDF). March 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 2, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  14. ^ Loewen, James W. (April 23, 2019). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers' Edition. The New Press. ISBN 9781620974858.
  15. ^ Loewen, James W. (September 7, 2018). Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History (2 ed.). Teachers College Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780807759486.
  16. ^ Loewen, James W. (2008). "Does My Town Have a Racist Past?". No. 33. Learning for Justice. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  17. ^ "Sundown Towns". The New Press. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Wexler, Laura (October 23, 2005). "Darkness on the Edge of Town". The Washington Post.
  19. ^ Loewen, James W.; Sebesta, Edward H. (January 5, 2011). The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The Great Truth about the Lost Cause. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604737882.
  20. ^ "Up a Creek, with a Paddle: Tales of Canoeing and Life". PM Press. Retrieved August 21, 2021.

External links[edit]