Home » Indiana » Goshen

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?
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Perhaps, Some Oral Evidence
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 6012 21
1910 8514 2
1920 9525 3
1930 10397 2
1950 13003 8
1970 17171 47
1980 19665 121
2000 29383 449 324 76 5679 87

Method of Exclusion

  • Threat of Violence
  • Private Bad Behavior
  • Reputation

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • German Protestant

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


On March 17, 2015, the city passed (unanimously) a resolution that concludes, “It happened, it was wrong, it’s a new day.” This resolution “Acknowledge[s] the racist and exclusionary aspects of Goshen’s ‘sundown town’ history, along with the pain and suffering that these practices caused; … [and] “Pledge[s] to work toward the common good in building a community where people of all races and cultural backgrounds are welcome to live and prosper.” Goshen thus transcended its sundown past. Below is information shared with this website in years prior to the resolution that confirms Goshen’s sundown past.

A former Goshen resident writes: I grew up in the small town of Goshen, Indiana. It’s the home of Goshen College, a Mennonite church college. In my growing up years, Goshen was known to have on its books a statute forbidding blacks to own property. When I was five or six years old (around 1957 58), Marion Anderson came to give a concert at Goshen College (I remember because it was the first concert I was allowed to attend), and she had to stay the night in neighboring Elkhart, ten miles away, because the Goshen Hotel would not allow a black person to stay there. Later, in the late 70s or early 80s, a friend of mine who was on the faculty at Goshen College, an African American, had his house repeatedly vandalized in Goshen. I would guess that the number of African Americans living in Goshen now could be counted on one hand, and they’re likely all people connected to the college… the town isn’t a very open one. Ironically, though, in the past few years there has been a large influx of Hispanic people moving in I don’t know how they have been received there.

Another former Goshen resident writes, “I lived for awhile in Elkhart County, Indiana, and Goshen (pop 20,000) has virtually no blacks while Elkhart only a few miles away, has a diverse population.”
Meanwhile, another Indiana resident writes, “In Goshen, there was until relatively recently a law on the books that forbade the settlement by blacks. The residents there knew it and used it to bump up real estate prices. Mennonites in Goshen were discussing about how this happened and how the Mennonites could allow it to happen.”

A long-time resident, Mike Puro, emailed in 2015: “I searched the ordinance books of the City of Goshen from 1831 to 1985 and found no mention of any law that prohibited African Americans or any group from being in Goshen after sundown.” He concluded that the cause of Goshen’s all-white population was “surely not” “a formal ordinance/law passed by the City. Rather it was accomplished with a wink and a nod by individuals within the community that had the means to obtain their desired results.” I (Loewen) am sure that he did good research but would still add this point: another possibility was that the city council DID pass an ordinance or something, but it never got into the ordinance books, maybe even never got into the minutes of the meeting. Certainly no city official took any steps to counter the widespread rumor that Goshen had passed an ordinance; on the contrary, Goshen bragged about its all-white racial composition into the 1970s. But it’s also entirely possible that Mr. Puro is corect and Goshen, like most sundown towns, stsayed all white owing to realtors, policing, thuggery, and other less formal means.

In 1951, Ruth Eigsti wrote in “Attitudes Representing Different Occupational Groups Toward the Negro in the City of Goshen” (Goshen, IN: Goshen College Mennonite Archive, 4/17/1951):
“Is there a problem of prejudice in Goshen? Almost all of the individuals interviewed would agree that they are aware of no problem because there are no Negroes living here.” (p. 5) “The Ethiopian boys who had been on our campus in [19]48-49 were received indifferently when they went to town. At different times our College Music-Lecture chairman has tried to secure lodging at the hotels and was refused.” They have a black student on campus, however, who has not been discriminated against. And a Dr. Steverson, foot doctor, lives four miles SW, with her husband, has not been refused service.
No blacks live here now. “Many people believe that there is a law or statue forbidding the Negro to live here. That is a false impression. If it were so it would be unconstitutional.” (p. 5-6)
She interviewed the mayor, police chief, and newspaper editor. One said he “would be satisfied if they stayed away. It seems that in other cities wherever there are Negroes living together there is trouble…. He has never had any personal contacts with Negroes but believes we would be better off without them.”
“Another … wouldn’t encourage the Negro to come here to live because he believes they would be happier with their own people. He believes that the people in this town are not any more prejudiced than in any other community or city.”
“The last … ‘has a warm spot in his heart for them.’ He wouldn’t encourage them to come because of the people who have never had much contact with them.”
A recent mayor got “a letter from a Negro family asking if they could come to Goshen to live. He didn’t say no, nor did he encourage it.”
Then she interviewed four industrial managers. “None of them have ever had a Negro ask for employment.” “They all attend concerts given by Negro performers.”
One said, “If Negroes would be cleaner, and take more pride in their homes, they would not be stereotyped as much as they are. He recognizes that conditions in East Goshen [poor neighborhood] are as deplorable as some Negro sections, but the influx of Negroes would not help. Property value goes down as Negroes move in and take over.”
Another cites property value decline.
She interviewed three attorneys. One “stated that the attendance at concerts where Negroes perform are larger than others. He reported that some people questioned the necessity of bringing Negro artists to the city.” The lawyers all agree that any ordinance would be unconstitutional.
She interviewed three ministers. They “expressed considerable dislike for the present feelings of some of their people.”
Doctors: “I am glad we don’t have any.” Another: “I should like Goshen to remain as it is.” Another: “I am happy without them. However, I would have no feelings against having them live here, providing they were of good moral and religious character.” Another: “I’d prefer that the present status of Negroes remain as is %u2014 none…. I have no racial prejudice, however.” Another: “Have no prejudices against the Negro in general but am glad to be living in a city where there is no race problem and hope it will continue that way. I would not like to have any living next door.”
Both hotel owners claimed “that they would not refuse service for one night, but would for an indefinite period of time.” [yet someone refused Marian Anderson!]
One restaurant hires one from Elkhart to clean at night. “She heard that they were the only restaurant in town that will serve them.”
No realtor “would sell a property to a Negro because of the security of his business. They are aware of the feelings of the majority of the people in Goshen.” One realtor talked with a restaurant owner who had put up a sign forbidding Negroes to enter, however, “and put pressure on him. He believes that there are none now who will refuse to serve them.” “Another agent stated that Goshen is a nice town and no Negroes help to keep it that way.”

Three students interviewed 76 Goshen residents selected randomly from City Directory. 46 or 60% said there should be a law guaranteeing Negro equality; 19 said there should not be such a law; 6 said there should be a law prohibiting Negro equality, and 5 did not reply. (pages 10-18)

Later, in 1961, Donald Mishler, James Norton, and Lea Beachy, wrote “Community Interaction Study” (Goshen, IN: Goshen College Mennonite Archive, 5/1964):
The silent majority ruled: When asked “Suppose there were a large organization in Goshen that was actively prohibiting the Negro from coming into Goshen; which of the following would you do?” 7 of 76 would “start disbanding” it; 24 would “favor disbanding”; 33 would “do nothing”; 7 would “favor it,” 3 would “join it,” and 2 did not answer. So 64 of 74 who answered would actually do nothing except private favoring or disfavoring.
Silent majority: “Suppose there were a large organization in Goshen that was actively promoting Negroes coming into Goshen; which of the following would you do?” 2 of 76 would “start disbanding” it; 3 would “favor disbanding”; 34 would “do nothing”; 28 would “favor it,” 7 would “join it,” and 2 did not answer. So 65 of 74 who answered would actually do nothing except private favoring or disfavoring. Four people favored both organizations! Two favored disbanding both!
9 of 76 favored “keep Negroes out” of Goshen; 20 said allow them “in section for Negroes only”; 2 said “anywhere but not near you”; 41 “anywhere in Goshen”; 4 no answer.
“What would you do to keep the Negro out of Goshen?”
70, nothing; 1, arouse neighbor to oppose Negro; 1, agitate for prohibitive ordinance; 2, “make life unpleasant for any who moved in”; 2 no answer.
What would you do if Negro moved next door? 7 would “sell house and move,” 3 would “actively disapprove,” 7 would “tolerate him,” 56 would “treat him as any other neighbor,” and 3 gave no answer. 43 thought their property value would go down; another 6 thought so “only if put up for sale,” and 2 more “decrease in value the longer it is held.” 7 thought “same value,” and 11 thought “maintain its same value.”
56 of 76 would let black “join the organization in which the respondent is most actively involved.” 12 would refuse to let him join or discourage it. [Blackballing would keep blacks out, of course.]
Prejudice was greater with lower education. While the poorest respondents had fairly high scores, the highest prejudice was among the most wealthy (N = 2 and also N = 11.)

In 1964, a survey by Patricia Hostetter, et al., entitled “Racial Attitudes of Goshen High School Students” (Goshen, IN: Goshen College Mennonite Archive, 5/1964), found that 31 of 89 HS students “never had any contacts with Negroes.” Others did through church (16), sports (14), camp (14), work (2), music (1).
59 said they %u201CProbably” and 20 “definitely would like to have closer contact with Negroes.” [Obviously the “right” answer.] I don’t like most of the rest of these questions because of that problem. 0 said blacks had inferior intelligence, for example. 72: “have not had equal chance.” (pages 1-18)

In the 1950s or early 1960s, a Jewish woman in Goshen organized a book club and invited black poets and authors to speak and then had them stay the night, in defiance of the law

A Goshen resident looked through the old R. L. Polk directories, and found that in 1955 there was a complete sentence that ‘Crime is at a minimum and contributing in a large measure to the absence of crime is the character of the population 97.5 % native born white, 2.5 % foreign born white, and there are no Negroes.’ He writes that by 1957, the last phrase was deleted (library did not have 1956 edition). I guess in the two years, someone had a minor awakening to the racism of the last phrase. But the prejudice in the rest of the sentence still escaped everyone until 1978 or 1979 when the whole sentence disappeared (I have 1979 edition, but not 1978).
The post office brought in the African American postmaster, probably late ’70s or early ’80s. He was a “joiner”…got into everything he could…Kiwanis and Exchange Club, country club, etc. Everyone bragged how enlightened they’d become “since we now have a black member”. Only thing is…everyone bragging had the same black member! There were bylaws in Kiwanis and Exchange Club (maybe still are, I’m not sure) against belonging to more than one like service club. But neither Kiwanis nor Exchange wanted to enforce the bylaws by not allowing the black member to belong, or they would appear racist. As far as I know, he was the only person in town to ever have dual membership. He retired from the Goshen Post Office, lived a number of years in the same house just outside city limits before dying about a year or two ago.
Also, a friend of mine told me that when he wanted to buy his first home (early ’70’s), there was collusion between local banks and real estate people not to do mortgages for African Americans.
Thankfully, we’ve grown some since those days. But it was still a struggle to pass an ordinance recently to establish a Human Relations Commission and hire a director. There was widespread support among the Mennonite Community and progressive minded people. We negotiated two months with Chamber of Commerce, trying to get its endorsement. We were only able to get to a point where they would not oppose it, but also would not endorse it. None of the three Republicans voted for the ordinance, despite changes that were made to “soften” it…concentrate more on education, and mediation, and despite many letters that were written to them and folks packing the council chambers both nights that the ordinance was voted on.
A less formal Human Relations Commission had been established in 1996, but there was no ordinance providing for statutory powers. It came together as a result of urging by the mayor at that time, and was a joint venture between City of Goshen, the Ministerial Association, and the Chamber of Commerce in reaction to a couple appearances of the Ku Klux Klan in Goshen. When the Klan came to Goshen the first time, a group got together and had an alternative “Diversity Day” rally that day. That celebration lives on and grows each year. The second time the Klan came, people organized a “Pledge Against Prejudice. People could pledge any amount of money per minute that the Klan demonstrated. The proceeds were then split between the local Human Relations Commission to help fund “Diversity Day” and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Since they offered to do it every time they came, I think that may have pissed the Klan off, as they haven’t been back since.
Also in reaction to the Klan, Goshen passed a “no mask” ordinance, claiming that anonymous speech need not be tolerated. The Klan showed up in robes at the City Council meeting, but they weren%u2019t allowed to speak unless they followed the rules of the council and gave name/address for the record, and removed the hood to speak. Their leader complied, with agreement from news media that his face would not be shown on TV. He tried to give a fictitious name, but the Police Chief in the back of the room shook his head, so he was asked for his real name and he gave it. His real name appeared in the newspaper, and supposedly he was fired from his job. There was widespread support for the ordinance, and it passed unanimously 7 0 (four Republicans, three Democrats). The Indiana Civil Liberties Union challenged the ordinance. It cost the city $50,000 in legal expenses to lose the case. Attorneys recommended not appealing the decision, as they would probably lose the appeal, also.