History and Social Justice

Inspired by James W. Loewen, sociologist, historian, citizen.

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.

Americans want to know their past. “The Civil War” set records at PBS. “Roots” changed our culture. Historical movies from “Birth of a Nation” through “Dances With Wolves” to “Twelve Years a Slave” draw millions. Meanwhile, our history textbooks mystify the past and bore everyone, while historical markers and monuments mostly tell only the stories that make their communities and their white leadership look good.
Our past cannot be taught “plain,” then leavened with Black History in February and maybe Native Americans in November. Properly conceived, U.S. history is totally interracial. Therefore, teachers and school systems must teach topics like slavery and mascot issues, even if their students are mostly white.
In 1999, Loewen started to research sundown towns, places that for decades were (some still are) all white, on purpose. He expected to find maybe ten such towns in Illinois, his home state, and fifty across the country. He had no idea. He found about 506 towns in Illinois alone, 2/3 of all the towns in the state. Similar proportions in Oregon, Indiana, and other Northern states also went sundown, mostly between 1890 and 1940.
Teaching at Tougaloo College, 1968-75, made Loewen aware that “standardized” tests have unfair impact on racial minorities. Tougaloo produced students with fine minds and good skills who subsequently performed well in difficult graduate programs, yet scored below the national median on the SAT and ACT. Subsequent research revealed that these tests also disadvantage women, nonaffluent, and rural students.
In 1975, Loewen got divorced. At that time, Vermont was even more backward on men’s rights and roles in divorce than Mississippi. Having less societal and legal power than his then spouse, Loewen wound up with visitation. The literature convinced him that anthropologists saw that gender meant complementary areas of relative benefit for males and females, while sociologists only saw female disadvantage. This web page shows both.
Loewen is/was proudest of his children, his physical impact on the landscape, his writings; his direct efforts at social change, and his deployment of money to support good causes. Unfortunately, a dire prognosis struck him before he finished some projects. A box tells of these too; perhaps a visitor might take one on.

Events

“The Educators’ Cooperative”

January 25, 2021 in Nashville
discussion with teachers

“How History Keeps Us racist — And What To Do About It”

January 30, 2021 in Nashville
contact Greg O’Loughlin, greg -at- educatorscooperative.org

“Getting History Right, Not White”

February 6, 2021 at U. of Nebraska, Omaha
contact Omowale Akintunde, oakintunde -at- mail.unomaha.edu

“Sundown Towns”

February 19, 2021 at Ohio State U. Newark
contact Laura Walsh, walsh.276 -at- osu.edu