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The all-white 'Sundown' in America

House Blender Holly sent me a link to a book that is definitely going to be on my wish list. Jim Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, has a new work coming out (in October), Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America. “Sundown Towns” were municipalities that purposely ran whatever blacks that had the misfortune to settle there out of town by physical intimidation, arson, restrictive ordinances — and for those stubborn darkies that had the gall not to get the hintthe gun. From the book description:

Highland Park, Texas, home to both George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, did not have a home-owning black family until 2003. Vienna, Illinois, expelled its black community in 1954, burning their homes and sending them fleeing. Eleven Presidents and recent presidential candidates come from sundown towns, including McKinley, Truman, Dewey, JFK, and George W. Bush Signature American edibles that originated in sundown towns include Spam, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and Heath bars.

Publishers Weekly, which has reviewed the book, adds more detail to the ground covered in Loewen’s work.

Located mostly outside the traditional South, these towns employed legal formalities, race riots, policemen, bricks, fires and guns to produce homogeneously Caucasian communities—and some of them continue such unsavory practices to this day. Loewen’s eye-opening history traces the sundown town’s development and delineates the extent to which state governments and the federal government, “openly favor[ed] white supremacy” from the 1930s through the 1960s, “helped to create and maintain all-white communities” through their lending and insuring policies.

“While African Americans never lost the right to vote in the North… they did lose the right to live in town after town, county after county,” Loewen points out. The expulsion forced African-Americans into urban ghettoes and continues to have ramifications on the lives of whites, blacks and the social system at large. Admirably thorough and extensively footnoted, Loewen’s investigation may put off some general readers with its density and statistical detail, but the stories he recounts form a compelling corrective to the “textbook archetype of interrupted progress.” As the first comprehensive history of sundown towns ever written, this book is sure to become a landmark in several fields and a sure bet among Loewen’s many fans.

Kate told me that she knew that there was a sign in Cullman, AL (no longer there) that said “Welcome to Cullman”, and as a subhead it said: “N*gger, don’t let the sun set behind your back,” so we know at least that is one Southern state that is probably in Loewen’s book.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding