How did James Loewen die? Historian and author of 'Lies My Teacher Told Me' dies at 79

Loewen is best remembered for his unparalleled 1995 book, which became one of the most sought-after history books among students


                            How did James Loewen die? Historian and author of 'Lies My Teacher Told Me' dies at 79
James Loewen was highly revered among his students (Tougaloo University)

Progressive author James W Loewen, who was well-known for debunking the truth about the history of the United States, has died at the age of 79. His book 'Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong' which was published in 1995, changed the concept of history. According to Loewen himself, the book was aimed to challenge the white, Eurocentric view of the American past. The tragic news of his demise on Friday, August 20, was confirmed by his publisher. He breathed his last at the Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. 

His death comes almost on the heels of the tragic deaths of popular authors like Jill Murphy, Lauren Berlant, and Janet Malcolm. Loewen is survived by his second wife Susan Robertson Loewen, two children Nick Loewen and Lucy Loewen McMurrer, four grandchildren, and his sister Mary Cavalier. A resident of Washington DC, James Loewen was also a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont. "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," a spokesperson for the author said in a posthumous tribute. 

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How did James Loewen die? 

James Loewen had been diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer in 2019 and he succumbed to the disease following a prolonged three years battle for survival. He even started compiling his own obituary after the diagnosis, to ensure his life is accurately portrayed after his death. 

"Having received a diagnosis in 2019 of muscle-invasive metastatic bladder cancer, Stage IV, with a prognosis of just below 1% survival after three years, he started putting his affairs in order. One part was writing 'Notes Toward an Obituary," reads a note on the author's website. He had only around one percent chance of surviving the ailment. 

Loewen is best remembered for his unparalleled 1995 book, which became one of the most sought-after history books among students. The book comprises famous chapters like 'The Truth About the First Thanksgiving', 'Gone With the Wind: The Invisibility of American Racism in American Textbooks' and 'See No Evil: Choosing Not to Look at the War in Vietnam.' Such a fresh outlook on the elements that defined American society and culture created almost a revolution in classrooms. Most of his findings were based on extensive research which he did during his fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution.

During a 2018 interview with NPR, Loewen revealed that he was inspired to write the book during his teaching days at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Known for its rich Black history, Loewen was made to rethink common historical ideas when he had asked his students to share their thoughts on Reconstruction. "And what happened to me was an 'A-ha' experience, although you might better consider it an 'Oh-no' experience: 16 out of my 17 students said, 'Well, Reconstruction was the period right after the Civil War when Blacks took over the government of the Southern states. But they were too soon out of slavery and so they screwed up and white folks had to take control again. My little heart sank," he had shared during the interview. 

The 1995 book sold more than 1 million copies. He also published sequels to the book titled 'Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus,' 'Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong' and 'Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers´ Edition'. Some of his other noted books include 'Teaching What Really Happened,' 'The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White' and his memoir 'Up a Creek, With a Paddle.' 

Loewen had also called out textbook authors for overlooking the history of the grassroots people, the history of the labor union, for instance. He believed that the existing textbooks were compiled in such a manner that gave students the false impression that mistreatment of workers "happened long ago, like slavery, and that, like slavery, was corrected long ago."

Despite his incredible success as an author and academician, "fathering was his happiest role," as Loewen mentioned in his own pre-written obituary. 

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