James Oliver Horton is the Benjamin Banneker Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History at George Washington University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University in 1973 and taught at George Washington University for 31 years before retiring in 2008. He is also Historian Emeritus at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, and during Spring Semesters, Visiting Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii. From 1998 to 2000 Professor Horton worked with the White House Millennium Council, acting as “historical expert” for then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He traveled with the First Lady's "Save American Treasures" bus tour of historic places in the summer of 1998 and accompanied her on a tour of historic sites in Boston in the winter of 1998. In the fall of 2000, he was appointed by President William Clinton to serve on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, of which he is still a member. In 2004-5 Professor Horton was the President of the Organization of American Historians, and in May, 2005 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Wagner College. In February of 2005 Professor Horton was honored with the “Living Legend Award” by the African American Museum of Boston. In 2006 Professor Horton was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the spring of 2009, the University of Hawaii presented him with its “Distinguished Alumni Award.”
Dr. Horton kicked things off by examining the question of slavery as America’s great contradiction.
He started with Revolutionary America, where the same man who wrote about the notion that “all men are created equal” held 150 human beings in bondage and that the British noticed this hypocrisy as America cried out for independence.
Once America won its independence, Horton examined the compromises regarding slavery that went into the Constitution and pointed out that slavery was not strictly a Southern institution. Slaves produced cotton which became more and more economically important. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin and by 1820 cotton was more valuable than any other commodity being exported from the country. This led to the South’s staple crop being important not only to the nation’s economy but the world’s economy. At the same time, the majority of US presidents were slaveholders. Horton pointed to James Knox Polk as the greatest example of this. He then stated categorically that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War (and that he knows that that would be considered controversial in some circles).
Horton then went on to introduce the first panel of speakers and the importance of the Sesquicentennial Commemoration.
Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (New Press, 2006) co-editor with Lois E. Horton
The Landmarks of African American History (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford University Press, 2004) the companion book for the WNET PBS series of the same name to air in February of 2005, coauthored with Lois E. Horton
Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America (Rutgers University Press, 2001), coauthored with Lois E. Horton.
In Hope of Liberty: Free Black Culture and Community in the North, 1700-1865, (Oxford University Press, 1997),coauthored with Lois E. Horton. Oxford University Press nominee for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in History.
The History of the African American People (Smithmark Publishers, 1995), co-edited with Lois E. Horton; (paper edition, Wayne State University Press, 1997)
Free People of Color: Interior Issues in African American Community (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).
City of Magnificent Intentions, A History of the District of Columbia (Intac, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1983), Pilot Series editor.
Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North (Holmes and Meier Publishers, New York, 1979, Second edition, 2000), coauthored with Lois E. Horton.