‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ author begins challenge day

James Loewen shares a transparency sheet with the audience on an overhead in OEC Auditorium. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)
James Loewen shares a transparency sheet with the audience on an overhead in OEC Auditorium. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)

The unofficial slogan of Edina, Minn., used to be “Not one Negro and not one Jew,” according to James Loewen.

Loewen, a nationally esteemed author and sociologist, shared this story with about 200 people during his lecture Monday night in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium. The speech kicked off multicultural student services’ challenge day event.

Before beginning his talk, Loewen commended St. Thomas students for coming to be challenged, especially because their generation is characterized as “generation me.”

“[Loewen’s perspective] challenges students to think about what they usually don’t think about,” freshman Katie Zimmler said. “He challenged students to seek the truth and perhaps expand beyond that.”

In his lecture, Loewen, a Carelton College graduate, called upon students to change race relations by keeping their ears and eyes open to the American history that most were not taught in school. Loewen said our country’s denial of a complete and accurate history is “an outrage.”

“It’s messing up our country,” Loewen said. “You guys are the ones who need to fix it.”

The same theme resonates through Loewen’s New York Times’ bestseller, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong.”

A lost historical era

Loewen’s lecture aimed to discuss a time in American history–the nadir of race relations–that he said is “the most important era of history that you’ve never heard of.” This period, which lasted from 1890 to 1940, is one of the most significant eras American history textbooks leave out, according to Loewen.

This era marks a troubling period of race relations and leaves us with two great legacies: distorted history and sundown towns, white communities where black people were not allowed after dusk. It was an era marked by lynching, legislation and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, which worked to disenfranchise black American citizens, Loewen said.

Loewen argued that it is important for students to study this period of history, but the nadir “doesn’t really fit with history the way it’s written now,” he said. Regardless, Loewen stressed the importance of studying it.

“I think there’s a reciprocal relationship between truth in the past and justice in the present,” he said, noting that this process starts by educating people about what really happened.

Challenging students’ historical perspectives

Students who attended the lecture said it raised some new thoughts and ideas.

Sophomore Ge Vang said he found Loewen’s lecture “interesting and informative.”

“It felt good knowing more about history,” Vang said, adding that the lecture covered things he said he never learned in history class, especially about the sundown towns.

Junior Sandy Moran said the lecture was a “great opportunity.”

“It was a really good lecture for students to learn, especially at a school that’s predominately white,” she said. “More of these discussions need to happen on campus.”

Zimmler said Loewen emphasized students should think about what they usually don’t think about.

“He challenged students to seek the truth and perhaps expand beyond that,” she said.

Grant Goerke contributed to this report.

Theresa Malloy can be reached at mall5754@stthomas.edu.

18 Replies to “‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ author begins challenge day”

  1. “He challenged students to seek the truth and perhaps expand beyond that.”
    What’s wrong with just seeking the truth? There is no truth beyond the truth. The truth is what it is.

    Did Dr. Loewen talk at all about how the terrible anti-Catholicism that has been going on in America ever since 1776? Did he mention how bitterly anti-Catholic the South and the KKK were? It wasn’t just African-Americans that suffered during that period in American history. Read the book “The New Anti-Catholicism” by Philip Jenkins. That book talks about how Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in the United States. People can say things about Catholics and treat them in ways that would not be societally acceptable to do to other groups in this country.

  2. Michael-
    I think you’re right that America has historically been anti-Catholic. There are some really horrific propaganda posters and political cartoons, particularly from the early 20th century that speak to this. That said, I don’t think anti-Catholicism today, or the vestiges of historical anti-Catholicism have resulted in the same sort of discrimination and institutional problems we see today with racism. In fact, in large part, discrimination against Catholics waned because of the social construction of “whiteness,” i.e. Catholics and Jews came to be primarily seen as “white,” when they weren’t before, and their oppression lessened.

    And regarding the comment about going beyond on the truth- my guess is that was a reference that he asked us to not only seek the truth, but also to do something about it once we find it.

  3. “That said, I don’t think anti-Catholicism today, or the vestiges of historical anti-Catholicism have resulted in the same sort of discrimination and institutional problems we see today with racism.”

    I think it’s more of a problem of anti-Catholic sentiment and anti-Catholic prejudice. Both used to be prevalent amongst people on the political right, but now the political left is where most of the anti-Catholic sentiment and prejudice comes from, and that sentiment and prejudice is so societally acceptable that most people don’t even notice it. Look at the attacks on Congressman Stupak, for example, mentioned by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, on March 11, referenced one such attack:

    “Mary Pollock, legislative vice president of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Women, yesterday accused Rep. Bart Stupak, a Catholic, of imposing his religious beliefs on the nation. “It is outrageous and un-American,” Pollock said of the pro-life congressman.”

  4. Michael-
    Could you please clarify exactly how Pollock’s comments are directed at Stupak’s involvement with Catholicism? Granted, not much context is provided in the excerpt, but it seems to me that Pollock is commenting on Stupak’s involvement in a government that chooses to make a distinction between church and state. If Stupak uses religion as the motivation to make abortion illegal, then he is ignoring that distinction.

  5. What’s problematic is that Ms. Pollock assumes that just because Stupak is pro-life, that he wants to set up a theocracy, but that’s not true. People have been calling Catholics in the United States “anti-American” for centuries because of our loyalty to the Holy Father.
    Also, separation of church and state was set up to protect religion from the government, not to protect the government from religion. I see nothing wrong with someone’s religious faith, or lack thereof, guiding one’s politics. One’s deepest beliefs should be reflected in their day-to-day life, and I don’t see what’s so controversial about that.

  6. I don’t think that’s what Pollock meant… I could be wrong, but I think she’s alluding to the fact that a. abortion is legal, b. Stupk openly said his opposition to coverage through government healthcare was religiously motivated, c. Stupak explictly stated his opposition to abortion coverage in terms of the “sancitity” of human life (and sanctity is a religious term, meaning holy or sacred), and d. the first ammendment’s non-establishment of religion clause states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” You can violate the first ammendment without trying to set up a theocracy per se.

  7. So why would Congressman Stupak’s actions violate the first amendment? It’s not like he’s proposing a constitutional amendment to make the Nicene Creed part of the U.S. Constitution. That would be violating separation of Church and state. But voting to limit abortion funding? I don’t think that constitutes separation of Church and state. And why can’t his religious and moral beliefs inform his political views? If you’re asking him to stop his religious and moral beliefs from informing his political views, then it’s only fair to ask everyone to stop all of their beliefs from influencing their political views. Isn’t politics all about competing systems of beliefs?

  8. “The Catholic Church used their power — their clout, if you will — to influence this issue. They had to. It’s a basic teaching of the religion,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a leading abortion foe and architect of the health measure’s restrictions.

    That far exceeds the limits afforded to someone so that they may vote in accordance with their religious and moral beliefs.

    It was Stupak who told Pelosi last Friday that if she wanted a deal on the health bill, she’d be well advised to invite the bishops’ staff, who were already in his office, to her table. “I said, ‘Well, they’re here, and they’re one of the key groups you want to have on your side, so why don’t we just bring them in and work this out,” Stupak said.

    The fact that Stupak brought Catholic officials to help draft legislation “is outrageous and un-American.”


  9. Certainly one’s religious beliefs can inform ones political views, but if one passes legislation on the basis of a religious belief, then I think that violates the non-establishment of religion clause. It’s certainly up for debate, but I think (and I think this is what Pollock meant) that if Stupak’s reasons for preventing government healthcare coverage for legal abortion procedures are religious (as he said they were), then that’s an attempt at an establishment of religion through legislation. I think there’s a substantial difference between one’s political beliefs being informed by one’s religious beliefs, and taking a political stance on the basis of a religious belief. Stupak framed his opposition to abortion in terms of religion. He is a government official. I don’t think those two things are compatible with the first amendment (were it to pass).

  10. That’s a fair point, Ms. Pogin, but Stupak’s opposition to abortion may not be based solely on religious grounds. Pollock assumed in her article that Stupak’s stance on abortion was based solely on religious grounds, and, to my knowledge, he hasn’t said that his opposition to abortion is based solely on religious grounds.

  11. You know, I don’t know. I only ever heard it framed in religious terms, but it’s possible that was a function of what the media chose to report on.

  12. Well the only reasons that were provided were based on religion. Political decisions should be based on the facts presented regarding the issue, constituent desires and legal precedent. Regardless of what religion, or belief system any individual subscribes to, I certainly do not want my government taking direction from faith based accounts and teachings.

    In regards to America being Anti-Catholic…. In my life I have seen Hispanics, Blacks, homeless people, mentally handicapped individuals, and military service members publicly ridiculed and treated with open distain while walking down the street. I have yet to see an individual discriminated while walking through a park simply because they were catholic. Catholic individuals may face prejudice while partaking in certain actions such as protesting a Planned Parenthood clinic, but there are many other groups who are treated far worse. A catholic individual doesn’t face nearly as much adversity. It is silly to claim that Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in the U.S. You must live under a rock.

  13. For a great look at the role of Catholic tradition vis-a-vis the KKK, read “Notre Dame vs The Klan”, a book centered around a riot in South Bend, Indiana in the mid-twenties between the KKK and students of Notre Dame. At that time, the KKK membership included about one-third of all eligible people (white males) in Indiana, including the mayor & city council of Indianapolis, the governor, and most Republican politicians. KKK full regalia was common at weddings, funerals and parades. The “patriotism” they attempted to wrap themselves in is scary, in part because the same phrases & appeals are used today by TeaBaggers, Palin followers, and GOP far right pundits & media darlings. Also, while most “Christian” countries have allowed everything from abortion to legal death of children under age five at some point in the past two hundred years, it has only been since the 1960’s that the issue of anti-abortion has been brought up by the far right. It should be noted that, while most people currently associate the women’s rights movement with on-demand abortion right, the original women’s movement (suffragettes, etc.) of the late 1800’s promoted a woman’s RIGHT to have a child. At that time, abortions were often demanded by husbands, boyfriends, and fathers of unmarried…

  14. “It is silly to claim that Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in the U.S. You must live under a rock.”

    Really? Take a look at what a Univ. of Minnesota-Morris professor did to the Eucharist

    Also, take a look at a certain play that was staged at the University of Minnesota a couple years ago.

  15. Mr. Nollett, Thanks for the history of the Anti-Catholic KKK.
    The pro-life movement did start around the 1960s, but that is only because abortion prohibitions were being repealed around that time. The pro-life movement is not a far-right movement, either, nor merely a conservative or religious movement, for that matter. There are pro-life Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, liberals, conservatives, moderates, independents, etc.
    I agree that the nationalism espoused by politicians on the left and the right is problematic, and I am very concerned about it as well.

  16. Michael- I don’t think his point was that discrimination against Catholics doesn’t occur/can’t occur/etc. but rather that to say *it is the last acceptable prejudice* just doesn’t match up with the far more rampant discrimination against people based on race/class/ability, etc.

Comments are closed.