James Oliver Horton remembered as a pioneer for African American research

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, James Oliver Horton



Family and colleagues say James Oliver Horton will be remembered for pushing boundaries and fighting to keep African American history intact.

Horton, an emeritus American studies and history professor, died from complications from dementia Feb. 20. He was 73 years old.

Horton taught at GW from 1977 to 2008 as the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History. He first began his teaching career at the University of Michigan, where he taught history until 1977, before he became the Senior Fulbright Professor at the University of Munich in 1988.

Lois Horton, Horton’s wife and an emeritus professor of history at George Mason University, said she and her husband first met as college students at the State University of New York at Buffalo and were married in 1964. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history there the same year.

“He was a singer and had a band and I was on the cheerleading squad,” Lois Horton said. “We were married for 53 years. We have a lot of stories.”

Horton and Lois Horton co-authored four books together, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, “In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks” in 1997. Lois Horton said they made memories traveling and doing research together on African American history.

“When we first started doing research together on the black community in Boston, everyone said ‘Oh that’s not possible, there was no community and the documents aren’t there,’” she said. “So we took it as a challenge and managed actually to recreate that community from before the Civil War.”

Horton served on the White House Millennium Council as a historical expert for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling with her “Save America’s Treasures” bus tour during her time as first lady. In the fall of 2000, Horton was one of two historians appointed by former President Bill Clinton to serve on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission – a federal committee that worked to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

While serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Horton took courses at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where he received a M.A. in American studies, before getting his Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University. ...




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