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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

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 about 507 in Illinois and thousands across the United States. This is their story; it is the first book ever written on the topic.


Sundown Towns in the United States


Search the Sundown Towns Database


How to Research and Teach about Sundown Towns

Students Make Documentary About Sundown Towns in Ohio, Win First in National History Day

Learn about Future Research Areas

Learn How To Confirm Sundown Towns

Does My Town Have a Racist Past?

Learn How To Confirm Sundown Towns from Sara Robinson and David Neiwert

Learn How to Research and Teach about Sundown Towns.

Learn When the Sun Goes Down in Oshkosh SD.

David Roediger and Kathryn Robinson Study "The Sundown Town Vote in Wisconsin: Race-ing the Trump Victory"


Goshen, Indiana, Pledges To Transcend Its Sundown Town Past

On March 17, 2015, the mayor and city council of Goshen, Indiana, passed a resolution to acknowledge and transcend its past as a sundown town. Between 1890 and 1940, more than 200 towns and counties in Indiana became sundown towns -- places that were "all-white" on purpose. Goshen was one of these towns. To be sure, it stopped enforcing its ban both formally and informally some years ago, but this resolution clearly moves Goshen beyond its sundown past. I recommend it as a model for other former (or persisting) sundown towns in Indiana and across the United States.

A RESOLUTION ACKNOWLEDGING THE RACIALLY EXCLUSIONARY PAST OF GOSHEN, INDIANA, AS A 'SUNDOWN TOWN'

In June, 2020, Goshen residents repeatedly demonstrated in favor of Black Lives Matter.

In 2020, Black Lives Matter activists reference the 2015 Resolution, propose a BLM mural for downtown Goshen.

La Crosse, Wisconsin, Pledges To Transcend Its Sundown Town Past

On December 8, 2016, the mayor and former mayor of La Crosse, Wisconsin, signed passed a resolution to acknowledge and transcend its past as a sundown town. Earlier, on October 27, 2016, La Crosse's Human Relations Council met before a large audience at City Hall and heard James Loewen speak on sundown towns, watched a video by Jennifer DeRocher, a graduate of U. WI LAX, on La Crosse as a sundown town, and heard the mayor give an apology for that history. Between 1890 and 1940, more than 150 towns and counties in Wisconsin became sundown towns -- places that were "all-white" on purpose. La Crosse was one of these towns. To be sure, it stopped enforcing its ban both formally and informally some years ago, but this resolution clearly moves La Crosse beyond its sundown past. I recommend it as a model for other former (or persisting) sundown towns in Wisconsin and across the United States.

December 8, 2016 - La Crosse Tribune

October 27, 2016 - La Crosse Tribune

OFFICIAL PROCLAMATION FROM MAYORS KABAT AND MEDINGER

Public history "on the ground" helped La Crosse transcend its sundown past.

La Crosse mentions its sundown past in its Wikipedia entry. All former sundown towns should do this.

Glendale, CA, Admits, Apologizes for, and Pledges To Transcend Its Sundown Town Past

On Sept. 15, 2020, the former sundown town of Glendale, CA, population 204,000, a suburb of Los Angeles, passed a far-reaching sundown town resolution.

Read a local newspaper account.

Another story praises Glendale for being the first of many California sundown towns to step up and take steps to transcend its past.

The City Council voted unanimously to admit, apologize for, and move beyond its sundown town past. This is the video record of the entire city council meeting that passed the historic sundown town resolution. At the beginning, you can note the agenda, including the resolution. They discuss the sundown town resolution from 1:39 through 2:33, including statements by each council member and call-ins from several members of the community. At times it is fairly emotional. Armenian Americans are the largest group in the White community and they are well represented on the City Council.

Here is the resolution.

To prepare for the vote, the council ordered a historical report. Here it is.

Norman, OK, Admits and Apologizes for its Sundown Town Past

Lecture at Norman, OK, Unitarian Church gives history of Norman as a sundown town.

Prof. George Henderson et ux, the first Black residents of Norman, tell of their life in a sundown town.

Norman admits its past, apologizes, and announces it is no longer a sundown town.

In 2021, PBS runs a new interview with George Henderson

Corbin, KY, an infamous sundown town, takes steps to declare itself a "Sunup City," welcoming all races. However, thus far it's only an organization within Corbin speaking, not the entire city.

The "Sunup Initiative," an important anti-racist organization, formed in Corbin in 2018 to recognize the centennial of the city's expulsion of its Black population.

On October 29, 2020, Sunup showed a new film about the expulsion and hosted a discussion.

The movie itself can be seen here.

Sunup has also mounted an exhibit for all to read about the expulsion. This is the home of Col. Sanders, founder of KFC, who wanted to be George Wallace's running mate. Read Sunup's "Initiative Statement".

Read Latest Issues of The Sundown Town News
Volume 1, Number 1
Volume 1, Number 2
Volume 1, Number 3

Maps of Probable Sundown Towns in Selected States

Here are maps of various states and parts of states with confirmed as well as likely sundown towns highlighted in pink (or orange). Refer to the interactive map of the U.S. to see the information we have on each town, or at least the information we have managed to get up at that page. (Remember, if the town does not appear on the interactive map, that does not mean it is not a sundown town. It only means we haven't checked it out and gotten the information into the database.)


Population Files for Towns in Selected States

Here I share Excel files of town populations by race for selected states. Some are much more complete than others. If you develop such a file for a state not included here, or a more comprehensive file for a state that is included here, kindly email it to me and I'll post it below for other researchers to use. Thank you. My email address is jloewen@uvm.edu.


Racism Curve



Sundown Towns in the Arts

Matt Ruff's novel Lovecraft Country - which has also been adapted into an upcoming HBO series - pays homage to the legendary fantasy/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) while at the same time attacking his severe white supremacy. Sundown Towns prompted the book.

Chris Crutcher's Angry Management ties together three "young adult" novellas, the third of which takes place in a sundown town.

Caroline Cooney's Burning Up (NY, 1999), also aimed at teenage readers, describes a high school student's gradual discovery that her family acquiesced when whites in her Connecticut suburb burned out the town's only African American resident.
"Sundown in Southern Illinois"

"Sundown Town" in Fayetteville, AR

"No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs" in Northern Virginia

Al Franken's art about being in sundown neighborhoods and suburbs of southwest Chicago.

A One-Person Show About Moving Into a Sundown Town (among other things)

Ry Cooder sings about sundown towns, hoboes, and other Americana

View the Graphic Summary of Sundown Town Talk to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Part One [JPEG] by Kim Love, Graphic Recorder

View the Graphic Summary of Sundown Town Talk to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Part Two [JPEG] by Kim Love, Graphic Recorder

I WANT YOU TO RESEARCH SUNDOWN TOWNS!

Click on image to learn how


Buy Sundown Towns

Buy the book on Amazon

Buy the book on Barnes and Noble

Search for Places to Buy the Book Using Froogle

A book selection of...


"Recovering" Sundown Towns Hold BLM Rallies After George Floyd's Murder

Norman, OK, is home to the University of Oklahoma. Nevertheless, it was a sundown town for decades. More recently, like the university, it has tried to improve race relations, so its BLM rally is no surprise.

Various towns in Orange County, CA, some of which were sundown towns until after WW II, held BLM rallies.

Anna, IL, notorious for its acronym, hence the most notorious sundown town in IL, hosted a BLM rally.

Benton, Herrin, and Carterville, heartless sundown towns in Southern IL through most of the twentieth century, hosted BLM rallies.

Vidor, the most notorious sundown town in TX, hosted a BLM rally.

Corbin, the most notorious sundown town in KY, hosted a BLM rally. Corbin also now has an anti-racist group, The Sunup Initiative, emphasizing that Corbin has moved beyond its sundown past.

Huntington, IN, the recovering sundown town where Vice-President Dan Quayle grew up, hosted a rally for BLM that drew police support, showing real change.

Martinsville, Indiana's most notorious sundown town, had a BLM rally, but most of the participants appeared to be from out of town.

Effingham, IL hosted a BLM rally Here is a release from the organizers.

Appleton, WI held a rally; police participated.

In Pekin, IL, protesters chanted, "No Justice, No Peace. No Racist Police"

Marshall, IL, a small sundown town near the Indiana line, held a BLM protest.

DeKalb, IL, home to Northern Illinois U., was probably a sundown town decades ago. It held a BLM rally.

Bentonville, a recovering SDT in NW AR, held a rally that police broke up, firing bean bags and tear gas at the protesters, followed by a second rally that some protesters called "copaganda" or police propaganda.

BLM protests were held in Ashland, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, and Medford, OR, all recovering SDTs.

At this point, Loewen realized that trying to keep track of all former sundown towns that have had BLM rallies was impossible; there were just too many. It is too soon to tell if these protests will lead to better race relations in their communities. Most former sundown towns face second-generation sundown town problems, such as overwhelmingly white police forces and public school teachers, horrible rhetoric including racist jokes and frequent use of the n-word, and displays of white supremacist materials such as the Confederate flag. However, a successful BLM rally is surely a heartening step for a community to take.


Sundown Towns in the News

A sundown town resident set himself on fire to protest his town's racism. A new film tells his story.

New Article and Series on Racial Issues in Illinois Cities and Towns

Christian Science Monitor prints article on Midwestern sundown towns

WEEK-TV (Peoria, IL) special report "Sundown past influence explored by nationally recognized author"

WEEK-TV (Peoria, IL) special report "Central Illinois Works to Change Associations With Racist Sundown Towns"

"Loewen answers attack in Champaign News-Gazette, suggests steps for "recovering" sundown towns in Champaign County to take."

"Discussion of interesting interracial town near Waverly, OH, contains first-hand information on Waverly as a notorious sundown town."

"Sundown Towns Documentary Airs on Injustice Files"

"Keith Beauchamp Films Sundown Town Sign in Tennessee"

Washington Post, "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

Washington Post, "When Signs Said Get Out"

The Dallas Morning News found sundown towns in Texas

Forgotten story of America's whites-only towns

"Talking History," a program of the Organization of American Historians, interviewed Jim Loewen about Sundown Towns.

Loewen attacks bad history in nomination statement of Kenilworth, IL, as "most endangered historic site"

Loewen asks Honda why it chose Indiana sundown town for huge new factory

Elliot Jaspin discussing Sundown Towns

Jean Pfaelzer discussing Sundown Towns against the Chinese in California

Washington Post, "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

Sundown Towns in Texas

Sundown Towns in Indiana

Sundown Towns in Wisconsin

Harrison, AR, Sundown Town, on PBS Website

Harrison, AR, Sundown Town, on SPLC Website

Elwood and Alexandria, Indiana, as Recovering Sundown Towns, in the Indiana Herald-Bulletin

A "sundown neighborhood" within Silver Spring, MD, connects with its adjacent black neighborhood.


Samples from Sundown Towns

The Introduction to Sundown Towns [PDF]

Sundown Town Slideshow

James Loewen gave an hour-long talk on Sundown Towns shortly after the book came out.


Information About Sundown Towns

Check out the Wikipedia Article on Sundown Towns

Read an encyclopedia entry about Sundown Towns by James Loewen

Have James Loewen Speak on Sundown Towns

Read about books that Mention Sundown Towns

Read about books that Should Mention Sundown Towns, but DON'T

Several cities tried to drive out their entire black populations and become sundown towns, including Tulsa, OK, and Springfield, IL. Illinois NPR recently did a story about Springfield's 1908 race riot.

Read an essay on how to Assess Historical Sources

Play a trivia game about the Nadir of Race Relations

This site was created by Matt Cheney and is copyright James W. Loewen 1997-2015.