Home » Wisconsin » Appleton

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.



Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Don’t Know
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Surely Not

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1870 4518 16
1880 8005 19
1890 11869 13
1900 15085 18
1910 16773 10
1920 19561 4
1930 25267 0
1940 28436 1
1950 34010 5
1960 48411 1
1970 57143 45
1980 59032 47
1990 65695 163
2000 70087 695
2010 72623 1807

Method of Exclusion

  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Email 11/2007:
The debate about the debaters; I slept in the same room as my dad on a cot and he was in a regular bed right across from me. One morning I woke up and lo and behold right across from me there were two negroes sleeping. I was really surprised–not excited or frightened- and I went down stairs and asked my mother what was going on. She explained that Joe and his debate team [from LeMoyne College in Memphis had gone] to debate Lawrence College (his alma mater) but Appleton would not let the blacks stay over night. So–Joe brought two to our house and the others somewhere else but I don’t know where.

* In 1970, 37 of the 45 blacks reported were college age and 2 were most likely in retirement homes and therefore probably not residents.

Testimony of resident: “It is my understanding that until around 1954 Appleton WI had an ordinance prohibiting “negroes” from living within the city limits.”

Testimony: “When I went to Lawrence University, that’s one of the first things I learned, that Appleton was a sundown town.” He was there 1978-81. This was “Until the ’60s, even the late ’60s.”

Another resident also confirms that Appleton is a sundown town.

Novelist Edna Ferber made a similarly extraordinary claim for Appleton, Wisconsin, in her 1938 autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure, p. 57: “A lovely little town of 16,000 people; tree shaded, prosperous, civilized. Creed, color, race, money %u2014 these mattered less in this civilized, prosperous community than in any town I’ve ever encountered.” Ferber, who was Jewish, may not have encountered anti-Semitism in Appleton, but she could not have failed to notice its complete absence of African Americans. Moreover, she had to know that their absence was by design. As historian James Cornelius put it, “When I went to Lawrence University, that’s one of the first things I learned, that Appleton was a sundown town.”

[C. Eric Lincoln, “A Brown Man in the House”]
“…. I finally realized the full implications of being called a nigger in a way that never quite came through to me before. I was in graduate school at the time, but my newfound understanding came from the lips of a child. Here is how it came about.
I had traveled with my white classmate from the University of Chicago to visit his family in Appleton, Wisconsin. As we drove in the evening before, it seemed a pleasant enough little town despite the fact that it was the hometown of Senator Joe McCarthy whose notorious red-baiting almost succeeded in making the arts synonymous with communism during the post-World War II era. I did notice that I saw no black people on the streets, and remarked about it. “None here,” my friend explained. “A few Indians now and then from one of the reservations, but I don’t remember ever seeing anybody else until you get down to Green Bay. You’re breaking new ground!” I did not feel elated.
The next morning I woke with the queasy feeling that somebody was in my room. As it tamed out somebody was in my room. As a matter of fact, there were half a dozen somebodys, each with a pair of solemn, questioning eyes intently trained on my black face ensconced in a fat white pillow. I was to learn later that little Barbara, the sevenyear-old doyenne of the house, had been out scouring the neighborhood almost since sunup to round up her small-fry colleagues for this exquisite moment of show and tell.
“You see there!” Barbara was urging as I finally realized that I was not straggling to come out of some delayed fragment of a dream. “You see there? I told you we had a brown man at our house! My Uncle Jay brought him from Chicago. He’s ours!” She announced with possessive finality. “He’s ours, and we’re going to keep him right here. Now go on and say `good morning’ to him. My Mommie says you have to do it!”
At first the row of little urchins hesitated a moment as if uncertain as to just how to go about such an unfamiliar task. Finally one of them stepped forward, bowed solemnly, and mumbled “G’moming! Brown Man,” and promptly escaped through the bedroom door. After that the whole line followed in turn…until a little tow-haired tyke named Jerry made his way up closer to the bed to see for himself. Suddenly, my big moment in preprandial show and tell was over.
“Hey! Wait a minute!” Jerry cried as soon as he could get a clear look. “Hey!” He said pointing an accusatory finger at the inert hulk cowering between the frilly covers of the guest room bed. “Hey! That there ain’t no `brown man.’ That there ain’t nothing but a great big ol’ nigger, and we don’t have to say nothing to him.!” With that he stuck out his tongue at me, waggled his thumbs in his ears, and strode triumphantly from the room like a pint-sized conquering hero.
I lay there in the morning light pondering the considerable learnings that had already been thrust upon me for the day. First, I had been a little amused by the adroitness of my host’s description of convenience. I had never been called a “brown man” before, but in an all-white town like Appleton, I supposed that “brown man” was a reasonably innocuous alternative to some more conventional choices that might explain my “difference” to little Barbara and her playmates. Since I was obviously not “white,” and “black” (at that time) was considered pejorative, brown was intended to satisfy the racial inquiry America’s children have to make before they can play together. I don’t know where or even if little Jerry had ever seen what he identified as a “nigger,” but it was clear that he had been taught to conceptualize one, and to make critical judgments in keeping with that conceptualization.
We don’t have to say “Good Morning” to a nigger because a nigger is a nonperson. Or, as Humphrey Bogart would probably have put it, “a nigger is what you are when you aren’t anybody at all.”

According to a WI researcher, “there was never an official law or ordinance on the books in Appleton. This is according to a check of city records going back to the 1940s. However, it was “an understanding” that black people were not welcome in the community after dark. To my knowledge, this was not true in neighboring communties, but I have been focusing on Appleton.
Apparently, as late as the mid 1960s, police would question black people on the street after dark to make sure they were on their way out of the city. Black people were also not welcome in local hotels. Even famous opera singer Marian Anderson was turned down a stay in a local hotel after performing at Lawrence University. I do not know the year on this, but it was probably around 1939, the height of her popularity. (Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution upon their refusal to allow Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1939.)
I have heard from several sources that members of the Appleton Foxes baseball team were not allowed to live in town either.
In any event, there were always a few black people living in Appleton, regardless of whether they were welcome here or not. There have been black students at Lawrence University for years, for example. Whatever came of the “Sunset law” is hard to say but I’m sure it was nearly completely deleted from white folks vocabularies in the late 1960s. For one thing, the ABC program started in 1968. Few people remember that Martin Luther King spoke at UW Fox Valley in 1967–who knows where he stayed that night!
Someone said there was once a billboard on Hwy 41 near Fond du Lac that said that black people were not welcome north of there. I don’t know when this was, however.”

“Appleton Needs Negroes, Civil Rights Panelists Agree” “‘It will surely produce crisis,’ [Rev. William Watkins of Chicago] said. ‘The perpetrators will be accused, but you have to take the initiative.'” But Appleton Post-Crescent publisher disagreed: “‘Sometimes there are other ways…'” He said he feared reaction of the middle group of citizens if Negroes were “‘imported.'”
School faculties include no blacks. Pres. of Appleton Board of Education Mrs. George C. Munro: “Only one Negro had ever applied, and ‘he decided not to come to appleton when he knew the situation here.'”

“Most Residents of Fox Cities Would Accept Negroes in Area.” “Just over two-thirds of Fox Cities Residents express willingness to admit Negroes to employment here, and a majority indicate they would accept them as neighbors and social friends, a recent survey shows. But markedly fewer residents %u2014 only 15% %u2014 would admit them into their families by marriage.” Done by Lawrence U. students. 6.3% would allow Negroes into the U.S. “only as visitors” or would “exclude entirely.” That figure was higher (but <10%) for Puerto ricans, Mexicans, and Chinese, [reflecting that Negroes already are citizens]. 17% would not respond to the scale re blacks, while only 8% refused to respond re English. 52.5% of respondents would accept Negroes "in their clubs as friends." The survey "included the urban portions of all the cities, towns, and villages in the Fox Cities, extending from Neenah to Kaukauna," and "showed that Appleton is considerably more willing to accept minorities than areas outside of Appleton." [That implies that Neenah, Menasha, Kimberly, Little Chute, Combined Locks, and Kaukauna may also have been sundown towns.] "However, more Appleton people refused to answer the question." At East HS, Appleton, White students beat up a white student from another group that included Hmong students. "According to a student who witnessed the incident, conflicts betwen Asians and whites have been a daily occurrence at the school. Usually it begins with a group of white students taunting an Asian student or his friends with epithets, or pushing them into lockers. He said the white youths 'pick on anybody that's different or anybody who hangs around them.'" "Numerous punches and kicks were thrown between the two groups of students..." "The two groups squared off again during the sixth hour in the parking lot, but faculty members got between the two groups..." "At North [HS], rancidents occurred between Hispanic and white stude4nts, including the painting of white power phrases on a school spirit rock that had been decorated with the Mexican flag." Asst. Supt. Donald Schlomann said harassing incdients were not "happening at a level abornomal compared to other years." Appleton North HS's "Spirit Rock" "'is supposed to be a place for students to express school and class spirit and pride, but it has obviously gone well beyond that,' [Principal Mark Huenink] said of the repainting of the rock with inflammatory hate phrases by some students. Huetnink said these incidents are disappointing in light of efforts being made to teach tolerance." "'Throughout the year we will work with staff on strategies to add different cultures and backgrounds into their teaching.'" "A teacher has suggested minority students be given an ad hoc role on the student council." [cf. Neshoba Central HS restructuring, 1971.] Each side accused the other of not participating in their culture. [Of course, diverse schools also have these problems.] White students came to school "the following day wearing Confederate Battle Flag symbols hanging from pockets on shirts and on car antennas." A Posse Comitatis leader set up near Appleton, c. 1988, related to anti-farm bankruptcy movement, attacked "Jewish bankers," was hounded out-of-state. Ephraim Williams, black, owned Briggs House, saloon in Appleton, c.1890. Wannabe The Story http://www.wpt.org/ Wisconsin Public Television KTCA/Twin Cities Public Television HREF="http://www.itvs.org WANNABE: LIFE AND DEATH IN A SMALL TOWN GANG documents the gang related murder/suicide that took the lives of four teenagers in the quiet community of Appleton, Wisconsin in May of 1995. This compelling one hour documentary explores issues of race, family dysfunction, and youth violence in the context of one small, middle American city. Producer/director John Whitehead returns to his home town to investigate the rise and fall of a teen gang called the D Mac Crew. The gang's five teenage members four white and one black took their name and marching orders from their leader, 17 year old high school junior Derek "D Mac" Barnstable. A white, middle class kid from a troubled home, D Mac lived an MTV inspired fantasy of thug life, idolizing the hard core rapper Eazy E and imitating the black "gangsta" style and slang he picked up from movies like "Colors," "Boyz in the Hood" and "Menace II Society." In the spring of 1995, the D Mac Crew's "wannabe" fantasies turned tragically real. The gang had begun hanging out with Jermaine "Jazz" Gray, a 17 year old black youth who had recently moved to Appleton from the meaner streets of Milwaukee. Jazz fell out of favor with the gang over a disagreement about drug money and also because he "dissed" the small town crew's gang aspirations, telling them they were "too white." At D Mac's urging, but without his actual participation, three members of the D Mac Crew lured Jermaine to a remote cabin and brutally murdered him. Ten days later, with the police about to arrest them, the three chose to end their own lives rather than face prison. They drove to a local park where one shot the other two and then ended his own life. The crimes detonated a shock wave of grief, anger and disbelief in Appleton, a prosperous city of 70,000. Gang style shootings were expected in L.A. or Chicago but not in Appleton, a town of quiet neighborhoods and leafy parks, an idyllic place with a low crime rate and booming economy. The circumstances in Jermaine Gray's murder were the exact opposite of what mostly white Appleton would have expected: the victim was a black kid from Milwaukee; the murderers were local whites. As the police sorted out the bodies and puzzled over motives, the townspeople of Appleton faced a deeper, complex question: what was happening to their community? One local woman commented that no Appleton resident is untouched by the issue of teen violence. "There are kids of all kinds from all economic backgrounds in this community and all races who are involved in violence." ABC students helped "break" Appleton. Excerpt from below: A native of Trinidad, a small Caribbean nation, [Hayden] Knight grew up in Brooklyn with his mother and three siblings when he applied to attend 10th grade in Appleton. "It was a program called 'A Better Chance' to help get kids out of the inner city and into suburban schools," he said. "My mom was working two jobs and there were four of us kids, so I did it to take some pressure off my mom." That was 1973, "and Appleton knew about the Green Bay Packers and that was it," he said. "It was quite a shock, Appleton was small minded at that time. We ABC kids helped them get through that." Positive Steps for the future: Appleton has taken steps forward to become a place that celebrates diversity and attempts to shed the vestiges of once being a sundown town. For example, %u201CA Better Chance (ABC) Program%u201D was implemented in the 1960s to bring minority teens to Appleton high schools from disadvantaged communities and continues today. Also in 1992, the first Martin Luther King celebration occurred and now is an annual event. Another program, the %u201COrganization Toward Community: Unity in Diversity%u201D which formed in 1994, aims to speak out against racism, celebrate diversity, and educate the community on the importance of accepting all people. Toward Community: Unity in Diversity is also organizing a panel discussion entitled, %u201CHow Close Are We,%u201D on September 19, 2013 whereby the African American, Indian, Jewish and gay community who have lived in Appleton for over 20 years can tell their stories and help assess how far the community has come.