16 January 2006

Sundown Towns - New Book by James Loewen

For those who are fans of the Unitarian Universalist Historian - Sociologist James Loewen and his books on US History (Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong), he's got a new book out.

It's called Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension of Racism in America and here's the book summary from the author's web site:
From Maine to California, thousands of communities kept out African Americans (or sometimes Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.) by force, law, or custom. These communities are sometimes called "sundown towns" because some of them posted signs at their city limits reading, typically, "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___." Some towns are still all white on purpose. Their chilling stories have been joined more recently by the many elite (and some not so elite) suburbs like Grosse Pointe, MI, or Edina, MN, that have excluded nonwhites by "kinder gentler means." When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States. This is their story; it is the first book ever written on the topic.
More on this topic can be found online in this Wikipedia article on Sundown Towns:
Sundown town
Sundown towns were towns and cities in the United States where non-whites were systematically excluded from living. They became common in America in the late 19th century. Sundown towns existed throughout the nation, but more often were located in the northern states that were not pre-Civil War slave states.

In some cases, signs were placed at the towns border 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 addition to the expulsion of African-Americans from many small towns, Chinese-Americans were driven out of towns where they lived. In one example, in 1870, Chinese made up one-third of the population of Idaho. Following a wave of violence and a 1886 anti-Chinese convention in Boise, almost none remained by 1910. The town of Gardnerville, Nevada blew a whistle at 6 PM daily alerting Native Americans to leave by sundown.

In addition, Jews were excluded from living in some sundown towns.

In some cases, the exclusion was official town policy. In others, the racist policy was enforced through intimidation. This intimidation could occur in a number of ways, including harassment by law enforcement officers.

Though no one knows the number of sundown towns in the United States, the largest attempt made to determine how common they were estimated that there are several thousand towns throughout the nation.

Sundown towns included (the below refer to historic sundown towns, not necessarily current ones. Also note that all Illinois towns below, unless specifically noted otherwise, have been confirmed as sundown towns by scholar James Loewen):
  • Anna, Illinois
  • Pana, Illinois
  • Ashland, Illinois
  • Casey, Illinois
  • Virden, Illinois
  • Pekin, Illinois
  • Cicero, Illinois
  • Vienna, Illinois
  • Berwyn, Illinois
  • Pinckneyville, Illinois
  • West Frankfort, Illinois
  • Edina, Minnesota
  • Myakka City, Florida
  • Kennewick, Washington
  • Vidor, Texas
  • Darien, Connecticut
  • Cullman, Alabama
  • Arab, Alabama
One of the more famous towns on this list is Darien, Connecticut which is prominently featured in the film Gentlemen's Agreement.

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