Home » Indiana » Elwood

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

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

Elwood

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?
Yes, Written Evidence
Sign?
Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Probably Not, Although Still Very Few Black People

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 10790 0
1930 10685 0
1940
1950
1960 11793
1970 11196 2
1980 10867 0
1990 9423 0
2000 9737 5 24 12 160
2010
2020

Method of Exclusion

  • Threat of Violence
  • Reputation

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black

Comments

Elwood, IN was the location for the Klan headquarters in recent years and has a well-known reputation as a white town. They were still holding an annual KKK parade a few years ago. Between Marion and Indianapolis, NE of Indianapolis.

“An August 1897 article in the Connersville Daily Examiner, for instance, contained a short item about some unidentified black people who moved to Elwood.
‘On numerous occasions in the past, Negro families have come here to reside, but owing to extreme indifference displayed toward them they did not find life in Elwood endurable and left,’ the article said.” — Bibbs, full citation below.
Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (NY: Harper Torchbook, 1964 [1908]) writes: %u201CThere are counties and towns where no Negro is permitted to stop over night. At Syracuse, OH, Lawrenceburg, Ellwood [sic], and Salem, IN, for example, Negroes have not been permitted to live for years. If a Negro appears, he is warned of conditions, and if he does not leave immediately, he is visited by a crowd of boys and men and forced to leave. A farmer who lives within a few miles north of Indianapolis told me of a meeting held only a short time ago by 35 farmers in his neighborhood, in which an agreement was passed to hire no Negroes, nor to permit Negroes to live anywhere in the region.” (p. 126)

Elwood was the home town of Wendell Willkie, presidential candidate in 1940 against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to a New York Times articles, %u201CFred Bays, state chairman of IN Democratic Party, predicted support for FDR from “the colored voter, who is not only grateful for the many benefits his people have received under the President’s administration, but who also resents Mr. Willkie’s selection of Elwood [as the site for his acceptance speech], a city in which no colored man has ever been permitted to spend the night, let alone live there.” (%u201CFDR, Jr., Aids in Campaign,%u201D 8/24/1940).

Marse Callaway, of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, wrote “300,000 Cheer Willkie; Elwood Wide Open to Everybody Alike,” after he stayed in biggest hotel in Elwood. Cornelius Richardson, chair, local entertainment committee, “”Willkie told Elwood’s mayor that he wanted all races treated here alike, and you see what happened.%u201D%u201D (8/24/1940).

However, an Elwood resident recalled that “Elwood had an old, tattered sign, ‘Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you in Elwood,'” in 1966.
“Many of the Negroes who opposed Willkie, did so because Willkie spent his early life in a prejudiced village in Indiana. Some Negro political spokesmen made capital of the fact that in Elwood, IN, where Willkie was born there hung a sign in large letters, ‘Niggers, don’t let the sun go down on you here.’ Many Negroes were of the opinion that, since his father was mayor and one of the leading citizens of the village, Willkie or his father could have done something about it if either had wanted to. To do nothing or remain silent about it was tantamount to endorsing it.” See Elbert Lee Tatum, “The Changed Political Thoughts of Negroes of the United States 1915-1940,” Journal of Negro Education 16 #4 (1947), 530.

“According to a Sept. 27, 1979, article in the Elwood Call Leader newspaper, an unidentified mother of four, including three children of white, black and Native American ancestry, was terrorized with a cross burning and by Klansmen in open-faced hoods.” — Bibbs, full citation below.

Another New York Times article was titled, “Willkie Ancestry Is Raised As An Issue”:

“Negro Democrats Cite German Background and Seek to Lies ‘Race Bias” to his Father”
The Colored Division of the Democratic National Committee issued a pamphlet “attempting to hold his father responsible for anti-Negro activities in Elwood, Ind., his birthplace.” It referred to Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that “Negroes are lower than apes.” Generally heavy-handed reference to Germans, to Willkie’s “Blitzkrieg” seizure of the Republican nomination, etc.
Pamphlet “Democratic Campaign Facts, 1940,” then said, according to article:
“Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood, Ind. His father was the leading citizen of Elwood, Ind., and took the leadership in forming all of its policies. Among these policies was the policy of excluding Negroes from residence in Elwood and in carrying out this policy, signs were displayed in conspicuous places reading ‘Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You.’ When Senator Minton ordered photographers to Elwood to take pictures on the day after the nomination of Mr. Willkie, these signs had been removed.”

A black Indiana policeman also confirms that “Elwood is by reputation still off-limits.”

email 11/2007:

There are now some black families that live in Elwood and at first you would again hear people questioning it but now a lot of people that were questioning the situation of these black families living in Elwood are no longer, and that they are coming the the realization that this is something they have to accept.

People are always going to see Elwood or when they hear the name of the town think of the Klu Klux Klan. Talking with people in other states, already know of Elwood because of that. But to me its something I don’t want to hide from people, that I am from Elwood, Indiana. I was to take it and learn from it and learn about the history behind it all.

An African American resident of Elwood emailed us: “Elwood is still very racially segregated. The black people live with caution , the hispanics live with ignorance, and I have yet to see an asian family live here. I have also been told that there are 150 active Klan members within city limits.”

African American woman, Renita Lark, 45, interviewed at heraldbulletin.com/news/madison-county-communities-strive-to-overcome-sundown-town-reputation/article_51e21ccd-63bc-5cea-a47b-3278d3eb3020.html.
“She recalls her grandfather, Joseph Hopgood, who lived in Anderson, telling her about the sign at the Elwood city limits that warned black visitors not to stay past sundown.
%u201CPeople still talk about it today,%u201D she said.
“The signs may be gone, but the reputation isn%u2019t, Lark said. That past, however distant, was enough to keep most of Lark%u2019s family in Anderson from ever visiting her in Elwood. And some of her family members expressed their fears of retaliation for sharing her story with The Herald Bulletin.
After she moved in, neighbors across the street put up a huge Confederate flg on their house. But, she said, “The children living in that house, however, eventually were allowed to befriend her children.”
She “lived in Elwood from 2000 to 2010…. We got called ‘monkeys.’ We got called ‘apes.’ We were told to go back where we came from…. [and that] they know where I live and they would burn the house down…
[Later] “we was accepted, as we were not the only black family there.”
“However, after about a year, Lark said, the animosity abated as residents began to recognize her and her family. For instance, her neighbors would warn her when the KKK planned a rally.
%u201C’They used to call us and say, “Don%u2019t come outside because they%u2019re having a rally. If you need something, call us,”%u2019 she said.
“After the birth of her daughter, Lark said, she received a phone call from someone at the video store telling her to come by. They had a gift basket of baby items for her.
“And as the family struggled amid the terminal illness of Lark%u2019s husband, residents came forward to help with the rent and with food.” — Rebecca R. Bibbs, “Madison County communities strive to overcome ‘sundown town’ reputation ,” Herald Bulletin, 4/3/2016.
So we can infer that by 2010, Elwood has passed beyond being a sundown town, even if just barely.