An excerpt from a CNN online article about Vidor, Texas’s past and present as a Sundown Town”
Peggy Fruge told me she’d welcome blacks to her neighborhood. Then she said this:“I don’t mind being friends with them, talking and stuff like that, but as far as mingling and eating with them, all that kind of stuff, that’s where I draw the line.”
Read more here: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/12/08/oppenheim.sundown.town/
Sundown for many people it’s a time of parties and fun; for others, it’s a time of terror and an omen their lives may be in danger. For thousands of Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, and other minorities in America, sundown meant running for one’s life from communities in which they were not welcome.
People of color for the 150 years since the start of the bloodiest US battle ever motivated by racism, the American Civil War, have been routinely excluded from certain communities. This exclusion can be subtle or blatant. Hawthorne, California, in the first half of the 20th Century probably said it best on its city limit sign: “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on You in Hawthorne”. Such towns, clearly posting their open mistrust and hatred of blacks, were called “Sundown Towns”. It was the kind of place where any black person, caught in town after sundown, might be in danger of lynching.
Most people think of Sundown Towns as a thing of the past. They are not. They continue to flourish and perpetuate their demographic of almost white exclusivity even in the 21st Century. The methods may be less obvious, but the net result is the same – while certain Sundown communities may grudginglyallow Jews or Hispanics to live in their midst unmolested, blacks are still unwelcome.
A few Sundown Towns are worth noting as examples of the varying degrees of racism still affecting the town’s demographics. Of these sample Sundown Towns, one is strictly blue-collar, another is an entire Sundown County culturally sheltered against change and outside influence, and the third is a very affluent community just an hour away from New York City.
Over the next couple of days, I will highlight some cities and neighborhood that are current considered modern Sundown towns or communities.
More infamous, though, is Vidor, Texas. This Sundown Town wallowed in its whiteness. Near the Louisiana border, this town of 11,000 wistfully (according to some of its citizens) longs for the good old days when there were no blacks; they wish they could turn back the clock to that time.
Beaumont, Texas, about 10 miles away, is much more integrated than Vidor. Why? Because Vidor, even today, resists integration. Sundown Towns existed by reputation – some did not even have to post signs for blacks to know they were not welcome. A black Beaumont resident recalled as a 19-year-old in 1963 he and three black friends got a flat tire on the road in Vidor. A police officer stopped; seeing the situation he told the teen he had until the officer returned from a nearby road exit to clear out (whether the tire was changed or not).
The Klan rallied in Vidor infrequently over the decades. And, should anyone think these incidents are relegated solely to the past, in 1993 an attempt by the Federal government to desegregate its public-funded housing development in Vidor met with outrage from the locals. The Ku Klux Klan rallied and marched in Vidor after a handful of black families were brought in to live in the public housing.
It is appalling to recall the news reports from Texas when refugees from New Orleans, with no homes left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, were shuttled from one East Texas Sundown Town to another. They were refused entry; in one case a bus of black homeless flood victims were met by armed individuals telling them to keep moving and not to get off their bus.
Surprisingly, Vidor was one of the few Texas towns that provided temporary shelter – it was trying to remove the taint of racism. Residents didn’t welcome the black refugees, but they knew it was politic to let them in. Just this once.
David Grann, a New Republic journalist visiting Vidor, Texas in 1998, made light of several African-Americans’ continued concern about the town: Several blacks in the surrounding area told me they still don’t stop there for gas at night even though the hand-painted sign on Main Street saying, “Nigger, Don’t let the Sun Set on You in Vidor” was taken down some 30 years ago. Grann doesn’t understand that African-Americans have a legitimate right to fear violent consequences, as well as such lesser repercussions as shunning, if they move into a sundown community. Five years before Grann’s visit, racial slurs, shunning, refusals to hire, and death threats drove four black households from Vidor’s public housing complex, leaving all-white by design.
***Information courtesy of Sundown Towns by James Loewen and BlackHistory.com***
As a kid growing up in Texas, I had heard stories about Vidor and Sante Fe, Texas. If you are driving to Beaumont or Louisiana don’t stop in Vidor. If you are going to Galveston, don’t stop in Sante Fe. Neither city was a desirable spot.