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Professor Emeritus James Loewen Wins Prestigious Sociology Award

The American Sociological Association has presented one of its top honors, the 2012 Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award, to UVM Professor Emeritus James Loewen.

Oliver C. Cox, Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier, the individuals for whom the award is named, were African Americans who put their scholarship in the service of social justice with an eye toward advancing the status of disadvantaged populations, broadening the views of society and improving global conditions.

In recognition of their lifetime efforts, the ASA annually names an individual or institution that has performed outstanding work to forward human rights and social justice issues with an emphasis on African Americans or populations who have experienced similar historical racial discrimination.

In his lifelong commitment to racial justice, Loewen has brought his rigorous work as a scholar into the public sphere where he has made a broad and powerful impact. His work dates back to 1963 when, as an undergraduate at Mississippi State University, he became interested in the immigrant Chinese American population in the Mississippi Delta, a topic he pursued as a Harvard dissertation and eventually turned into his first book, The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White.

Returning to the state in 1968 as an assistant professor of sociology at the historically black Tougaloo College, Loewen put together a team of students and professors to write a new history for high school students, Mississippi: Conflict and Change. When the state found the book too frank in its treatment of race, Loewen became lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit which he won in 1980, one of nine cases establishing the “Right to Read Freely” according to the American Library Association.

In 1976 Loewen joined the University of Vermont faculty where, during his twenty-year tenure, he taught innovative courses on the sociology of race relations.

“He was one of those interesting characters, deeply formed by the civil rights movement in the ‘60s,” says Thomas Streeter, professor and chair of sociology. “He inspired several generations of sociology students to care about the underprivileged in society and often to go out and do something about it.”

After retiring from UVM Loewen authored the award-winning Lies My Teacher Told Me, a critique of the ways that high school history texts distort facts about racial discrimination and inequality, a book that’s sold over one million copies since it was published in 1995. 

In 2005 Loewen wrote Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism about the places all across this country where African Americans were – in some cases still are – plainly not welcome. A review in The Washington Post says that, “for its meticulous research and passionate chronicling of the complex and often shocking history of whites-only communities, Sundown Towns deserves to become an instant classic in the fields of American race relations, urban studies and cultural geography.”

The ASA, in its award citation, credits Loewen with forty years of service exposing the causes and costs of racial discrimination.