- Type of Place
- Metro Area
- Politics c. 1860?
- Unions, Organized Labor?
Sundown Town Status
- Sundown Town in the Past?
- Was there an ordinance?
- Year of Greatest Interest
- Still Sundown?
Method of Exclusion
Main Ethnic Group(s)
It was a pleasure and somewhat of a surprise to realize that Denton, Kansas, during my childhood in the 30’s and 40’s was not alone in its rascism. The one hundred or so inhabitants located in northeast Kansas near St. Joseph and the Missouri River, were almost pure Anglo Saxon from Lincolnshire, emigrating in the 1880’s. My dad was born in Denton in 1885 and the family attended reunions annually in the summertime at the Methodist Church just across the street from my grandfather’s town home. The homestead was just outside the townsite along the Rock Island Railroad that connected St. Joseph and Topeka. My father rode the train to Topeka and then south to Baldwin City where he attended Methodist Baker University, becoming an accountant. The Dentons converted to Methodism in England and suffered discrimination, leading to the decision by a number of brothers to migrate into the western United States where the U. S.! Cavalry had put native American Indians into reservations near Horton, making valuable and rich farmland free for the taking. Having suffered discrimination and prohibition from higher education or land ownership in England, the Dentons were no more tolerant in the new country.
America was good to the Dentons. My father migrated to St. Joseph where he first worked as an accountant for the meat processing plants there. With the coming of the automobile, he risked his career to work as finance officer for an automobile dealership that opened just across the street from the St. Joseph City Hall. He stayed until retirement while siring six children, always reminding us of our heritage with frequent returns to the family roots in Denton.
Once when I was in high school, probably in the late 40’s, I became bored during the Sunday afternoon family gossip sessions, and walked from the Church a block or two over to Kansas Hghway 20, which connected Troy, the county seat, with Atchison to the south. Not far from the highway sign identifying the town’s city limits as ‘DENTON pop. 98’ was another curious sign which read as I remember: ” Do not let the sun set in this town if you are Colored”. When I asked about it in embarrassment, I was told essentially: MYOB, it is a local problem. But as I already knew, the schools were segregated in St. Joseph, and the Jewish girl who had a crush on me was told she could never marry a Gentile. While on a passenger ship to Germany where I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Cologne in the late 50’s, I met an exceeding bright and I thought beautiful Black girl also on a scholarship to Europe. We were told to ‘cool it’ ! and she finally broke it off saying: It will never work for us…. Even the girls in Cologne at the University in a town which was nearly 100 White and Catholic shunned me as a ‘foreigner’ and a ‘protestant’. In Cologne, however, I responded to a newspaper ad offering a room for rent in a private home near the University. The welcome was warm and familial. Later, the man of the house, a ‘professor’ at a local ‘Hoch Schule—like a Community College, said he wanted me to live in the house because: ‘I hate Americans, who shot and wounded me in the 1945 occupation of Cologne. I am trying to deal with my hate because it poisons my life and limits my skill as a teacher.’ He became like another father. A case where hate turned into love.
In those days, we referred to Blacks as Colored, and were not permitted to say the word Nigger, or Negroe, except in limericks such as: Eenie, meenie, miney, moe; Catch a Nigger by the toe; If he hollers, make him pay; Fifty dollars every day”. A nonsense rhyme, but it lives even today. My grandchildrn sing it as five years old, substituting ‘Tiger’ for ‘Nigger’. Of course, the original word still rings involuntarily in my head.
The folks in Denton were not narrow in their bias. Native Americans were considered inferior and alcoholics. (Most of the Dentons as Methodists were abstainers and great supporters of prohibition; The women were members of WCTU) Jews were considered immoral if not murderers for killing Jesus. Anyone who spoke Spanish were Catholic (Papist and Un-American) or low life farm hands who lived in barns or shacks.
We have come a ways since the 60’s, but still have a long way to go. You are helping us to understand our past so that we can deal better with our future. In a way, like my second father, Mathias Weber, the wounded teacher in Cologne. Next time I am in Denton, I will see if the sign has been saved as a part of their history, or if it was just destroyed, either by the city after my inquiry, or by some one who came by in the night and spirited it away. I will ask if anybody remembers….