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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.

Chesterton

Indiana

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

Confirmed Sundown Town?
Surely
Was there an ordinance?
Perhaps, Some Oral Evidence
Sign?
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
1860
Still Sundown?
Surely Not

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1860
1870
1880
1890
1900
1910
1920
1930 2231 0
1940
1950 3175 1
1960 4335 0
1970 6177 0
1980 8521 2
1990 9124 9
2000 10434 93 144 22 347 13
2010
2020

Method of Exclusion

  • Violent Expulsion
  • Threat of Violence
  • Violence Towards Newcomers
  • Private Bad Behavior
  • Reputation

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black

Comments

The Chesterton Tribune wrote in 1903: “About forty years ago [c.1865] Negroes began to settle in this township in numbers, and it was not long before they became a nuisance. Stealing was rife and all kinds of depredations were going on. Ned Harrigan, who lived here at the time, says that the whites met at the … school building, and decided to clear the country of the blacks. A notice was served on the offenders giving them 24 hours to get out of town, and by noon the next day every Negro shanty was empty, and that was the last that was ever heard of them. For years after that it was impossible to get one of this race to even pass through the township. That meeting saved this county many a tragedy.”

On January 26, 1922 the Chesterton Tribune published another article on the topic:
“Colored Family Leaves Porter County Soil”
“Liberty township is at peace with the world again. For some time, residents of that township have been worked up to a frenzy regarding the removal of a colored family, consisting of six persons into that vicinity. Thoughts of a colored colonization began to occupy the minds of the citizens, and recalled the times when Arthur J. Bowser, of Chesterton Tribune fame, led in a fight against colonization by colored people in Porter County by an Eastern realty company. However, the rare problem, as far as Liberty township is concerned, has been amicably settled by A. W. White, colored, who purchased the Matt Franzik 62 1/2 acres, selling his interests to Trustee Ira M. Biggs and returning to Gary with his wife and four children.”

John Gehm, in _Bringing it Home_ retells the story of a man named Story Johnson visiting a bar in Chesterton, 3/67. John Squires kept asking loudly, “What’s that goddamn nigger doing in here?” The bar owner warned Squires. At 12:30AM Squires came back, armed, ordered Johnson outside. Johnson refused. According to one story, they wrestled, and Squires shot Johnson five times. According to most witnesses, they did not wrestle; Squires just shot him. An all-white jury acquitted Squires. The NAACP marched to protest. (p. 92-94)
As for early blacks these are some of the items found:
An article in the Chesterton Tribune 6 April, 1892 says: “Dick Johnson, the colored man from Woodville, was arrested some time ago for stealing chickens from his neighbors…….Dick has been around north Porter County since 1861, and has been credited with stealing thousands of chickens….”
1870 census for Westchester Township has a black household headed by Edward Cutner/Cutmen? , a woodchopper, age 66, born NY.
1880 census for Westchester Township lists George Patterson, 36, born IN, barber. Also listed are five children and his 101 year old grandmother. He is also listed in the 1880 Indiana State Gazateeer for Chesterton.

According to a resident of Chicago who spent summers in the Indiana Dunes near Chesterton: “I recall that my parents spoke of the unofficial sundown law in Chesterton. The “unofficial sundown law” simply meant that black people who might come into Chesterton for work or business did not live there, and knew that they should not stay there in the evening, socially (e.g., to see a movie) or be seen on the streets after dark. The presumption was that they would be harassed by residents or stopped by local police and asked to leave.”

According to a former resident: “There were a few incidents in the town that were not talked about in the newspaper or the school news letter that ran a few student’s families from town (i.e. N****r being written on the only African American students locker). There was also a fear of Gary, IN. instilled in many of my friends and me. We were taught that if we drove through Gary we were to roll up the windows, lock the doors, and not to stop at red lights. Members of my family who still reside in the town are concerned with the growing population. When I return to visit, it is not uncommon to hear comments like “there are a lot of those people moving here…” or “Yesterday, I saw a family of Indians walking down the street.”