African American History is American History; Mourning the Loss of Dr. James Oliver Horton

The page of Slavery And The Making of America! autographed by Dr. James Horton
The page of Slavery And The Making of America! autographed by Dr. James Horton

James Oliver Horton has died. He was Professor Emeriti at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was a teacher, an author, and a mentor. In reporting on his passing the University said “His work on the “tough stuff” of American history, the stories a white majority found unpalatable, grew out of years of graduate teaching that produced a generation of museum staff and curators attuned to making African American history central to the history of the country.” The “tough stuff” refers to the book he co-edited with his wife Dr. Lois E. Horton, Professor Emerita at George Mason University and one of the original signers of the Unpaid Labor Manifesto. The book is entitled Slavery and Public History edited in 2006.

But to us at Unpaid Labor and to many others he was so much more. He is part of our story. It was November 29, 2005. Mathew Foggy, Jr., our founder, had long since begun his journey to find an answer to the questions race had surfaced in his own life. He had read the books of James and Lois Horton. He had watched many of the films and video productions on ABC and PBS and the History Channel featuring Dr. Horton. He had read the works of other historians that had begun to write the history about the critical importance of slavery in the early American Republic to the birth, growth and survival of the nation. Many of these historians were colleagues of the Horton’s that were doing similar work. They were David Brion Davis and David Blight and Eric Foner and John Hope Franklin to name a few. They were writing the history that would answer his questions and free him to see the real story of race in America from the perspective of contribution vs. victimhood.

Then came November 29, 2005. He was on a trip to Washington, D.C. to take his granddaughter back to Howard University. He couldn’t think of going to D.C. without thinking that it might be an opportunity to meet and talk with one of his favorite historians. He had no appointment. But he would take the chance to knock on the door of Dr. James O. Horton at the George Washington University. The great man wasn’t there! As he left he just happened to meet Dr. Horton coming into the building. An unplanned meeting would turn into an extended visit as he told him about his quest. He would leave that meeting better than he came and with an autographed copy of Slavery And The Making of America! Dr. Horton was so gracious. He would also give Mathew invaluable input on his unpublished manuscript that would become the basis for the Unpaid Labor project.

It would be years later in 2016 when Mathew would learn that Jim Horton was too ill to consider helping us with the Unpaid Labor project and that Dr. Lois Horton would agree to be one of the early signers of the Unpaid Labor Manifesto.

James Oliver Horton has died. He was one of the giants of the academy of historians of the Early American Republic who taught us that African American History is American History and that African Americans are the indispensable factor in the United States becoming the most successful nation in modern history. We mourn his loss.