17 February 2006

Unitarian Universalist Congregations and "Sundown Towns"

I've heard Unitarian Universalists comment on how little racial diversity we have in many Unitarian Universalist congregations. Two things I've recently read about this made me think about a potential connection between "sundown towns" and our current demographics.

Recently, Jess wrote the following words in a reply on Dan Harper's blog:
"Personally, I'd like to see us do more for our immediate neighbors than pontificate over why we don't have more persons of color in our pews in the rural Midwest."
And the Unitarian Universalist Association's Special Review Commission provided a lot of historical background in their report about the events impacting "the Unitarian Universalist community of color, especially youth," surrounding the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas. The following commentary is about the community where the host church for the Youth and Young Adult of Color Leadership Development Conference (LDC) that happened just before the 2005 GA:
"Adding to the tension of the LDC is the fact that the church is located in University Park in Dallas, originally a white-flight suburb now engulfed by the expanding city. The area is de facto segregated by class and there remains overt racism in the University Park Police Department. There are reports from the youth participants of harassment from law enforcement officers and residents in the area. Apparently the LDC leaders were not aware of the history of the area."
The reason that I'm seeing a potential connection between these quotes is from reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism in America by James Loewen.

Sundown towns have been very common in the Midwest and other regions outside the traditional South. For example, Loewen's book documents that Illinois (his home state and the state that he researched the most) had 424 sundown towns with populations greater than 1000 in 1970. Loewen also found that 231 Indiana towns were sundown towns as well. Loewen also talks about the sundown town history of University Park, Texas (the Dallas suburb mentioned in the 2005 GA Report).

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what impact does locating in a current or former sundown town or white-flight suburb has on Unitarian Universalist congregational demographics. We may discover that many of our congregations have moved to communities and neighborhoods that are not welcoming to people of color and that may be responsible in part for the current level of "diversity" in many of our congregations.

1 comment:

slyypper said...

Hi, thanks for posting about this! The author's finding that most of these sundown towns are in the North and Midwest is very interesting indeed.

The black/white divide is not the only place this schism occurs. Immigrants are being subjected to pressure as well in towns where they live and work...Time Magazine's recent cover story addresses this, as did the 2004 doc film "Farmingville." Both were good resources to begin to understand this issue.