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The inhospitable inhabitants of these locales relied on some combination of

discrimination, harassment, arson and riots, sometimes escalating to outright lynching

to enforce ordinances which mandated a state-sanctioned, lily-white society.



Sundown Towns

A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

By James W. Loewen

Book Review by Kam Williams


Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. A ‘sundown town’ is any organized jurisdiction that, for decades, was all-white on purpose. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. Other towns passed ordinances barring African-Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property.

All this residential exclusion is bad for our nation. In fact, residential segregation is one reason race continues to be such a problem in America. The ghetto isn’t the problem. Exclusion is the problem. The elite sundown suburb is the problem.

As soon as we realize that the problem in America is white supremacy, rather than black existence or black inferiority, then it becomes clear that sundown towns and suburbs are an intensification of the problem, not a solution to it. So long as racial inequality is encoded in where one can live, the United States will face continuing racial tension, if not overt conflict.-- from the Introduction


Over the years, I have frequently encountered roadblocks while attempting to rent or purchase a home. I wish I had a dime for every time a realtor informed me over the phone that a house or apartment was available, only to turn around and suddenly say that the place had just been taken when they saw that I was black.

I have heard similar stories of frustration from many other African-American friends, such as a very successful Brooklyn restaurateur who was repeatedly blocked every time he tried to relocate his business to a more upscale location. I even have a friend who works in real estate who told me he had found it impossible to buy in a certain town, despite a willingness to meet the asking price.

Now the racist roots of this persistent phenomenon have been exposed by James W. Loewen in Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. Loewen, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Vermont, is also the author of a couple of other eye-opening treatises, namely, Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America.      

Painstakingly researched, extensively annotated and illustrated with damning photographic evidence, the book effectively proves that for most of the 20th Century, thousands of communities all across the country designated themselves as “White Only.” This meant that blacks, and often Asians, Native Americans, and Jews as well, were routinely denied any opportunity to live in these exclusionary municipalities.

The inhospitable inhabitants of these locales relied on some combination of discrimination, harassment, arson and riots, sometimes escalating to outright lynching to enforce ordinances which mandated a state-sanctioned, lily-white society. These so-called Sundown Towns got their nocturnal nickname from the intimidating signs posted at the city limits which warned, “N-word, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You [Here].”

Pointing out that a widespread sundown town mentality persists to this day, Loewen argues that it is about time that America owned up to the damaging practice. Otherwise, he concludes, the country has little hope of eradicating the prevailing housing patterns which continue to keep the majority of blacks segregated and suffering in the squalor of our impoverished inner-cities.

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Book Summary 

New Book Says Whites-Only Towns Exist and Segregate Themselves Purposefully from People of Color

I never can quite figure out if it's just plain ignorance or pollyanna idealism that makes people say that racism no longer exists in this country. It's only when instances, like the (now) infamous "Fiesta Day" dress-up atrocity at Highland Park High School, happens that people realize that racism is so ingrained in the national psyche that when it happens most people have a hard time seeing it.

That's especially true in places like Highland Park, Texas, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Darien, Connecticut, the whole state of Idaho and other small, wealthy suburbs or sections of towns that have consciously or unconsciously discouraged people of color from moving within their boundaries. Places like these have been christened "sundown towns" by Professor James W. Loewen, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont and the author of a new book called Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. In his book, Dr. Loewen thought he would only find a handful of sundown towns still in existence. In Illinois alone, he has found 472 and the list keeps growing.

According to Dr. Loewen, sundown towns get their reference literally from signs that some of these towns posted on the outskirts of their towns warning blacks not to stay after dark in their towns. Dr. Loewen says that by definition a sundown town is a community of more than a 1,000 people that has excluded blacks for decades to such a degree that they have made up less than 0.1 percent of the population. The exclusion was deliberate, whether or not a sign was posted.

Though blacks suffer the brunt of the discrimination in these kinds of towns, Latinos don't trail far behind.What Dr. Loewen found in his research that though blacks traveled the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North and Midwest, that is where most sundown towns are actually located. In fact, Dr. Loewen has found that Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the most segregated city in the nation.

If you're wondering how this happened, Dr. Loewen reports that though everyone makes a fuss these days about equal opportunity and fair housing, none of that started to change until the 1960s. By then, "white flight" had already taken root in the suburbs and communities of white people had been established. After the communities had been set up was when the wealthy whites made those communities their homes.

To say they frown on sharing their neighborhoods with people of color is an understatement in some areas. Who do you think uses racial profiling the most when assessing "visitors" who drive through their towns? And we know racial profiling is alive and well.

No wonder it's no big deal to their children to dress up making fun of the people who do the kinds of jobs that they're being taught are beneath them, and only done by people with dark skin or speak with an accent.

Another byproduct, says Dr. Loewen, of such a lopsided lifestyle where diversity is just a dictionary meaning is that these towns also serve as a source of such social ills as gaps in academic achievement. White parts of town typically have the better schools and better teachers.

Even on a social scale, going out means more choices. From stores to restaurants, the predominantly white parts of town are the kinds of areas that are said people "aspire" to live in. The reason for that is because within these "bubbles" people are accepted and they belong - even if it's only to a particular zip code. The main struggle for any person of color has always been the fight to belong.

Dr. Loewen realizes that the fight continues today. He is conducting further research into sundown towns and asks if anyone is working on any kind of research like the topics he has listed on his site to email him. If Dr. Loewen's book proves anything, it's the fact that racism does exist—and too many people think it's normal. 

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When I was on the political science faculty at Purdue University, which is in West Lafayette, IN, I often drove to Indianapolis.  On the way, I passed through "White County."  I am certain that in the 1990s and much earlier, people in the region knew what that name signified.  Although born in Gary, Indiana, I didn't grow up there.  In the early 1950s, my family moved to Los Angeles when I was about 11 or 12 years of age.  Hence, I never knew of Indiana's virulently racist past and present until I took a job at Purduewithout any doubt the most anti-Black and racist institution for which I have ever worked.

During my employment at Purdue, I once visited a retired friend of my parents who told me that when he was a child in Indianapolis, the KKK had an office right in the downtown area.  I later read about Indiana in the 1920s and 1930s and the extent to which the KKK controlled the state's politics during that time.

Hence, many whites regularly imposed on towns, cities, and counties the name "white" in order to signify white supremacy.Floyd

posted 27 December 2005

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

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Ancient African Nations

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