A federal judge in Mississippi has ordered state school officials to permit the use of a controversial new history of the state that emphasizes recent civil rights struggles, a picture of a lynching, and a history of the state's black population.
U.S. District Court Judge Orma Smith ordred the book placed on the "approved list," available to school districts that wish to use it. The ruling came after some members of the state's seven-member rating committee testified they turned the book down six years ago because they felt it stressed black history too much and because they didn't like the picture of the lynching.
James W. Loewen, one of the book's editors and contributors and director of research of the Catholic University Center for National Policy Review, said the book was designed to reflect new scholarship on Mississippi history and to counter anti-black racial stereotypes and prejudices by presenting a fair and accurate picture of the black role in the history of the state.
Peter Stockett, assistant attorney general of Mississippi, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal Smith's ruling.
Loewen, an associate professor of sociology on leave from the University of Vermont, taught at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., from 1968 to 1975.
In 974, he and Dr. Charles Sallis of Millsaps College in Jackson wrote a book that Loewen said was designed to be vivid, readable and suitable for use as history of Mississippi.
The book "Mississippi, Conflict and Change," was published by Pantheon Books (Random House).
Mississippi requires a course in state history, usually in the ninth grade. Under the state's system, school districts get textbooks free from a state-financed central purchasing board. Every six years the board, on the basis of evaluations by rating committees, puts textbooks on its approved list and purchases them for districts that wish to use them.
Loewen said that when his book was submitted to the history rating board in 1974, two black members approved it but all five white members turned it down. The book later won the Lillian Smith Award for nonfiction, presented by the Southern Regional Council. The rating board approved another book, already in use, which Loewen contends doesn't adequately treat black history.
The editors, joined by the public school system of Jefferson County a predominantly black county, and by the Catholic school system, which gets books from the state, sued in federal court to get the decision reversed.
The claimed, said Loewen, that the rating committee members were racially motivated and had deliberately turned down the book because of its more ample and favorable treatment of blacks. They contended the turndown violated freedom of speech guarantees under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constituion, equal treatment guarantees under the 14th Amendment, and due process guarantees because there was no avenue of appeal of the rating board decision under state procedures.
Judge Smith, a native Mississippian and a close friend of former senator James Edward (D-Miss.) who got his job with Eastland's backing in 1968, ruled last week in favor of Loewen and Sallis. He ordered the book placed on the approved list; the state will have to provide copies if a district requests them.