Loyola University Chicago

Department of History

Refusing to Forget, Founded by History Professor Dr. Benjamin Johnson, Receives 2021 OAH Friend of History Award

Refusing to Forget, an organization founded by Dr. Benjamin Johnson and other U.S.-Mexico Border scholars, received the 2021 Organization of American Historians (OAH) Friend of History Award. Refusing to Forget aims to bring public awareness to the anti-Mexican racial violence of the 1910s through historical markers, museum exhibits, lesson plans, publications, and other means, with the hope of supporting contemporary struggles for racial justice and the reform of policing. The Friend of History Award is annually granted by the Board of the Organization of American Historians to “an institution or organization, or an individual working primarily outside college or university settings, for outstanding support for historical research, the public presentation of American history, or the work of the OAH.”

Refusing to Forget was founded in 2014 by Dr. Johnson and four other scholars of Mexican American history and the border. They wanted to bring attention to critically forgotten Mexican American history. “We were approaching the centennial of some of the worse racial violence in U.S. history, targeted at Mexican descent people in Texas in the 1910s,” Dr. Johnson explains, “and we saw that anniversary as a chance to gain public recognition of events that were familiar to us as scholars but not very well known among the general public.” Some of the organization’s major contributions to public history include suggesting and assisting with the design of an exhibit about this historical violence at a key Texas history museum, placing three historical markers at important historic sites, and producing educational resources and new scholarship on the violence and its enduring consequences for justice and civil rights.

The history shared by Refusing to Forget is significant, according to Dr. Johnson, as “we are again living in a time in which some of our leaders portray Mexican descent people as invaders and thieves, and where they are again killed because of those depictions.  I think it is critical for U.S. democracy today to understand how dark our history is, and how the greatest threats to the lives and dignity of our populace come from within.” The Black Lives Matter Movement has recently reinvigorated Dr. Johnson and his partners in their work with their discussions about Confederate monuments and shown them new opportunities that they had not thought of before.

Click HERE to view the 2021 Friend of History Award presentation from OAH. The presentation starts at 6 minutes and 4 seconds into the video.


22 April 2021