Mason professor was a leading historian, inspiring teacher, esteemed colleague

Mason professor was a leading historian, inspiring teacher, esteemed colleague
Dr. Lois Horton

Dr. Lois Horton, a renowned scholar of African American history, was a faculty member emerita at George Mason University, retiring in 2008 after a nearly thirty-year career as a member of the history and sociology programs.

Horton died in September 2021, leaving a legacy of scholarship and teaching that touched many Mason students. “She had legions of students from Mason, both undergraduates and graduate students,” recalled history professor Suzanne Smith, who worked with Horton from the start of her own tenure in the Department of History and Art History. “In our department, she worked on numerous doctoral dissertation committees. She was a beloved teacher.”

Horton was the recipient of numerous academic honors, and was the author, co-author, or editor of nine books. With her late husband, Dr. James Oliver Horton, she authored Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North (Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1979, revised and enlarged edition, 1999); In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (Oxford University, 1997); Von Benin nach Baltimore: Geschichte der African Americans vom Beginn des transatlantischen Sklavenhandels bis in die neueste Zeit (Hamburger Edition, Hamburg, Germany, 1999) (with Norbert Finzsch); Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America (Rutgers University Press, 2000; Oxford University Press, 2021); Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford University Press, 2004); and Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (The New Press, 2006).

"She loved research. She loved teaching," said Smith. "You could just feel her passion. She approached her work with such integrity because she cared so deeply. It is not a surprise, therefore, that her contributions to teaching, scholarship, and public history were so vast."

Horton was also committed to the importance of public history, helping museums, government agencies, educational institutions, and social justice organizations strengthen their understanding of the role of race and social movements in American history. The Salzburg Global Seminar, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, the District of Columbia Public School System, the National Park Service, the New York Historical Society, and First Lady Hilary Clinton’s 1997 Save America’s Treasures national tour were among the organizations that benefitted from her knowledge and energy. During her long career, she also held the John Adams Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Amsterdam in 2003, served as the Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society in 2010-2011, taught several summer seminars sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and served as a visiting professor at the University of Hawai‘i (2006-2009) and at the University of Munich.

Horton launched her career at Mason in 1979, teaching in the Department of Sociology. Associate professor of sociology Nancy Hanrahan valued Dr. Horton as a mentor and colleague. “Her interest was always genuine, critical, and compassionate,” she said. “There was never any pretense about her. It was part of her mentoring, it was part of her teaching.

“She could see the possibilities. She saw the talent in people, the possibilities inherent in human beings. And she also saw the possibilities in both the academic and the political worlds....  She was really committed to the project of making other people’s lives better.”