Using Research Information to Help
a Sundown Town Overcome Its Past
A first step in opening up sundown towns and suburbs is to show how they became all-white. Often decades of obfuscation have made that difficult. Leaders of a sundown town often do not want their town’s racial history known. For one thing, the stark racism represented in a sundown town makes it look bad. For another, many successful white Americans want to believe that they earned their status. Whiter towns typically have higher status in the U.S., especially white suburbs. Residents who convince themselves that they “made it” into, say, Kenilworth, the whitest and most prestigious suburb of Chicago, feel good about themselves, as a result. Often they say things like “African Americans will make it into Kenilworth too, as soon as they become more educated and wealthier.” Such residents do not want to realize that in 2010, more than 7,000 black families in the Chicago area made more income than the median white family in Kenilworth, which negates the possibility that Kenilworth’s expensive homes account for its racial “purity.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
To prepare for the vote, the council ordered a historical report. Here it is.
Other Towns that Have Transcended their Pasts
- Appleton, WI, perhaps the largest independent city ever to go sundown, made some effort to move beyond its past via a museum exhibit titled “A Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in the Fox Cities”
- Bluffton, IN, mayor had his town join the Inclusive Communities program of the National League of Cities. In its Wikipedia entry, Bluffton takes pride in telling how it transcended its past. Often residents of cities that have not done so edit out any references to their sundown practices.
- In 2003, Duluth/Superior took note of its terrible 1920 lynchings that probably led to Superior becoming a sundown town by putting up an impressive memorial to the three Black victims. Then it set up a scholarship fund going to the student(s) “demonstrating contribution to or understanding of race relations within their communities.”
- Ocoee, FL, renounced its sundown past.
- Naperville, a large suburb of Chicago, began to admit its sundown past.
Sundown Towns are Changing; Many Held 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.
Towns that Still Need to Overcome their Sundown Pasts
- A minister calls for her California town to address its past.
- A resident of Edmond, OK, calls for Edmond to apologize for its racist history.
- Crossville, TN, finally painted over a mural showing a lynching (of a white person) in an elementary school in 2018. Historian Kevin Levin thinks Crossville’s past as a sundown town tied in with the imagery.