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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
1890 3880 20
1930 12276 10
1990 21941 50
2000 23314

Method of Exclusion

  • Violent Expulsion

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Mower County, where Austin is, had 36 blacks in 1890, 11 in 1930.
Austin had 47 African Americans among 21,907 people, 1990.
In 1930, 10 blacks in Austin. 12,276 total.
In 1990, 71 bl., 37,385, Mower County; Austin, 21,907; 47 bl., incl. 4 households.
In 2000, Austin, 23,314; 188 bl.

In 2000, oral historian Roger Horowitz interviewed John Winkels, United Packinghouse Workers of America, Oral History Project, State Historical Society of WI:

Riot drove out black railroad workers in 1920s.. Winkels and other whites went down to the shacks by the tracks, where the railroad was “housing” the switch-house workers, who may have been strikebreakers, and beat the shit out of them. They fled, and Austin got a reputation for inhospitality toward blacks that persevered. Into at least the 1950s, blacks would not go to Austin.
During the 1986 Hormel strike the workforce was entirely white except for one worker from Ghana. The town may have had one or two black families, perhaps the shoeshiner.
The beatings were apparently not labor related; Winkels just went down to “have some fun.” The white participants were not railroad workers, but might have had sympathy for the workers; there was a strike in the early ’20s.

John Winkels:

“One time Hormel hired 40 niggers … and they put ’em all in the plant at one time.
“And at that time, you know, they used to scab, you know. Really not their fault, but the companies that hired them scabbed them. Well, first of all, they hired them when the roundhouses were on strike, they hired a boxcar full of ’em….
“My cousin was up here, and we went to a dance in town …. And so my cousin says, ‘You want to go over to the roundhouse? We’re gonna chase the niggers out of town.’
“I said, ‘What’d they do?’…
“And he said, ‘They’re scabbing on the workers in the roundhouse, because they’re on strike.’
“‘OK, let’s go!’
Had a piece of shovel handle; we went.”
Truck drivers, roundhouse guys, packing house %u2014 no union then. “We surrounded them at the roundhouse and broke it in and went in to the roundhouse. The sheriff or the cops couldn’t do nothing because hell, they were the same as the workers. We went in there and run the niggers out. Hit ’em over the head, you know, and tell them to ‘get goin’!’ ….
“Albert’s Creek runs through there, and some of them run that way, and we was after ’em, chased them, and one of them fell in the creek. He got up on his feet and he says, ‘Lordy mercy, if I ever gets on my feet again, I’ll never come in this town again!'”
“Then Hormel hired them forty. We run them out of town.” “Somewhere between ’24 and ’33.” Little houses in “the jungle,” woods at the edge of town. “After supper we got clubs and went down there and we run them out. After that they didn’t come in no more, because they knew they couldn’t hire them.” [Note that the Hormel incident seems unrelated to any strike.]
“And I’ll tell you a good one: so one time we had Frank %u2014 I forget his last name %u2014 he was shining shoes in the barbershop and then afterwards he bell-hopped for the bus in town here, and everybody liked him….
“He’d never go in the packing house because he knew he couldn’t, he didn’t want to go there. So one day I was walking along … and here came a couple of niggers, and they stood there by the bridge facing the packing house, and … [Frank] says, ‘Y’know, John,’ he says, ‘When the damn niggers start comin’ into this town, I’m gonna get the hell outta here.’ And he was black! He was black! He didn’t want them to come into town either…. But we never had no trouble with Frank at all.”
Waterloo had some blacks, South St. Paul had some, Faribault had none, etc.

Note that the Hormel incident was unrelated to any strike, and the fact that the black railroad workers were strikebreakers may also have merely been an excuse, since Austin appears to have had a sundown policy before they were hired.

From a professor at Macalaster college:

During the Hormel strike of 1985 86 in Austin, Minnesota, it was noticeable that there were exactly two Black workers among the workforce, both of whom were young Africans who had come to the US to attend college and had run out of money. This seemed rather stunning, given the high percentage of African American workers in the meat packing industry in Omaha, Chicago, KC, etc. When some of us asked about this, union members and retirees recounted a local tale that in 1922, during the railroad shopmen’s strike, a number of African American strikebreakers had been brought in by rail and housed inside the RR roundhouse. A crowd of strikers, family members, and local supporters laid siege to the roundhouse and the strikebreakers fled for their lives, many of them jumping into the Cedar River and swimming to safety … or drowning. No African American had lived in Austin since 1922, we were told.

By 1900 blacks numbered just 5 but by 1910 they rebounded to 37, with both sexes reasonably represented. The 1920 census showed 25 African Americans, but only two were females; I suspect the earlier population was run out some time before 1920 and these were males working for the railroad or the meat packing plants. By 1930 only 11 African Americans lived in the county, among 28,065 people. That number stayed steady in 1940, but the census numbers hardly tell the whole story.