It’s Monday, POU Family. It’s a new week, new weekly thread. This week’s topic talks about modern day sundown towns. I have been reading a book by James W. Loewen, a historian and sociologist, called Sundown Towns- A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. It is one of the first full length books on the subject of Sundown Towns.
A sundown town was a town, city or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns”.
In some cases, signs were placed at the town’s borders with statements similar to the one posted in Hawthorne, California, which read “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne” in the 1930s.
In some cases, the exclusion was official town policy or through restrictive covenants agreed to by the real estate agents of the community. In others, the policy was enforced through intimidation. This intimidation could occur in a number of ways, including harassment by law enforcement officers.
Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and especially since the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing, the number of sundown towns has decreased. However, as sociologist James W. Loewen writes in his book on the subject, it is impossible to precisely count the number of sundown towns at any given time, because most towns have not kept records of the ordinances or signs that marked the town’s sundown status. His book, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, notes that hundreds of cities across America have been sundown towns at some point in their history.
Loewen’s book mentions that sundown status meant more than just African-Americans not being able to live in these towns. Essentially any African-Americans (or sometimes other groups) who came into sundown towns after sundown were subject to harassment, threats, and violent acts—up to and including lynching.
In addition to the expulsion of African Americans from some small towns, Chinese Americans and other minorities were also driven out of some of the towns where they lived. One example according to Loewen is that in 1870, Chinese made up one-third of the population of Idaho. Following a wave of violence and an 1886 anti-Chinese convention in Boise, almost none remained by 1910. The town of Gardnerville, Nevada, is said to have blown a whistle at 6 p.m. daily alerting Native Americans to leave by sundown.
In addition, Jews were excluded from living in some sundown towns, such as Darien, Connecticut.
The first modern day Sundown Town mentioned was Anna, Illinois. It is a town of about 7,000 people. It is adjoined with Jonesboro. In 1909, in the aftermath of a horrific nearby “spectacle lynching” Anna and Jonesboro expelled their African-Americans. Both cities have been lily- white ever since. Nearly, a century later, “Anna” is still considered by its residents and surrounding neighborhoods to mean, “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed”. This acronym was last confirmed in 2001.
It is common knowledge that African-Americans are not allowed to live in Anna, except for residents at the state mental hospital and transients at it’s two motels. African-Americans who find themselves in Anna or Jonesboro after dark have been treated badly by residents of the town. Anna-Jonesboro had corporate limits, signs that usually said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on You in_” by the highway as recently as the 1970’s.
Anna and Jonesboro are not unique or even unusual. Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the U.S. for whites only. Many towns drove out the black population then posted various sundown signs. Other towns passed ordinances barring African-Americans after dark, or prohibited them from owning or renting property. Others established such rules by informal means, harassing and even killing those who violated the rule. Some sundown towns similarly kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans and other groups.
Independent sundown towns range from tiny hamlets such as De Land, Illinois(population 500), to Appleton, Wisconsin(population, 57,000 in 1970). Sometimes who entire counties went sundown, usually when their county seat did. Sundown suburbs followed, a popular example is Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, had a population 180,000 including just 28 minority families, most of whom on a U.S. Army Facility.
Sundown suburbs are found from Darien, Connecticut to La Jolla, California, and are more prevalent. Most suburbs began life as a sundown town. Sundown towns also range across the income spectrum. In 1990, the median owner-occupied house in Tuxedo Park, one of the wealthiest suburbs in New York City, was worth more than $500,000(the highest category in the census). The median house in Kenilworth, a rich suburb of Chicago had the same thing. The median house in Pierce City, Missouri is just worth 29,800 and a house in Zeigler, Illinois is worth just 21,900. All four towns kept out African-Americans for decades.
***This information can be found on pages 3-5 of the book Sundown Towns- A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.***