Charles Sallis, 89, Dies; Upended the Teaching of Mississippi History

Charles Sallis, a Mississippi historian who collaborated on a high-school textbook that revolutionized the teaching of Mississippi’s troubled history, died on Feb. 5, at his home in Jackson, Miss. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his son Charles Jr.

Until “Mississippi: Conflict & Change,” which Mr. Sallis wrote and edited with the sociologist James W. Loewen, was published in 1974, high school students in the state had been fed a bland pablum that omitted the horrors of slavery, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow and largely skipped over the civil rights movement.

Mr. Sallis, a native of Mississippi, had grown up bathed in his state’s conventional racism. But he had long realized that most of what he had been taught was wrong: Slave owners were not benevolent, Reconstruction was not a tale of Black corruption and white supremacy was not inevitable. He and Mr. Loewen set out to change, forever, the way young people in Mississippi thought about their state.

In 1970, as the most active phase of the civil rights revolution that had transformed his state neared its end, Mr. Sallis, a history professor at the relatively liberal Millsaps College, along with Mr. Loewen, who was then teaching nearby at the historically Black Tougaloo College, and a small team of students and faculty from both schools sat down to rethink their state’s past. Over the next four years, the group of nine produced a ninth-grade history textbook so vigorous, frank and unsparing in its review of the state’s grim history that the Mississippi State Textbook Purchasing Board barred its use in schools almost as soon as it appeared.

Outside Mississippi — a state the historian James W. Silver had called “The Closed Society” in a landmark book in 1964 — the efforts of Mr. Sallis, Mr. Loewen and the rest of their team were immediately recognized.

Mr. Sallis and his collaborator, James W. Loewen, set out to change the way young people in Mississippi thought about their state.Credit…Pantheon Books, 1974
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