The Lies Told by Historical Markers
An evening with author James Loewen and his wife, Susan
A pleasant Saturday evening was spent this past weekend in historic, downtown Dahlonega, GA with best-selling author, Jim Loewen and his wife, Susan. Jim was the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything that Your History Textbook Got Wrong” (1995 and 2007), “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong” (1999) and “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism” (2005). Before retirement Susan was the highly respected Director of the International Student Exchange. Jim has received many honors for his writing skills, the most notable being the American Book Award. “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is his publisher’s best-selling book of all time. The couple now lives in Washington, DC.
Conversation around the restaurant table focused on the problem in the United States of history being modified or even fabricated to promote political agenda. Loewen’s continued interest as a sociologist is cryptic racism. Politicized history spans a far broader spectrum than racism, however. It can be used to promote the ambitions of a politician, economic schemes of a government, or the ego of a professor. The problem seems to be getting worse, rather than better. Mass media is able to brainwash an entire population with false information, if handled astutely by the spinners.
The most common explanation for the difficulty of correcting false history is that the reformers do not have the academic credentials to be authority figures. Scott Wolter, the host of the hit History Channel series, “American Unearthed,” will be the first one to tell you that PhD anthropologists and historians have been his most acerbic detractors. Wolter is a highly respected forensic geologist. His critics say that he is not supposed to use his technical skills to analyze archaeological artifacts and come up with different interpretations than what they have speculated in the past. However, being a respected academician, working within one’s primary discipline, does not seem to be much help in removing fabricated history.
A few years ago, a team of history and law professors from Oklahoma journeyed to Dixie to examine the colonial archives of South Carolina and Georgia. Dr. Joshua Piker, an expert in Colonial History at the University of Oklahoma was among the group. The academic team had identified inconsistencies in the “official” versions of the interactions between British Colonial authorities and the Southeastern Indians. They found many documents that refuted what American schoolchildren had been taught for over 200 years.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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