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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.

Grants Pass


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
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
1920 3151
1930 4666
1940 6028 0
1950 8116 3
1960 10118 4
1970 12455
1990 17488 38
2000 23003 76

Method of Exclusion

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

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


In Beverly A. Brown, _In Timber Country_ (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995), %u201CIn the Country%u201D interviews with older residents of Josephine County, Oregon. Names were changed, and they were published as:

%u201CPeter Alten%u201D and %u201CLarry Lyon.%u201D “Back when the Caveman Bridge was a two-way bridge. And on both ends of that bridge %u2014 now, this is something I remember from a little teeny kid …. You remember the old signs on the bridge? ‘Nigger don’t let the sun set on you here.’ And it meant it. It was a nasty town in some ways.” (p. 49) Pete is talking. This is Grants Pass. “My dad was a Klan member. And I grew up hating coloreds to the max. Until I went to Vietnam and had one save my life…”
“Barbara”: “Some of the things that I remember hearing was, ‘No, they can’t stay in Grants Pass overnight. They have to be out of town by the time it gets dark.'”(p. 59) “I remember when they first set up the Fort Vannoy Job Corps, which is now the Rogue Community College campus. The town went completely nuts. Because they were going to be bringing in people from big city ghettos, and they knew that they would be black and brown and whatever. The town went totally crazy. They would not let any of the young men come into town without a person in control of them. They weren’t allowed to go into the stores unless they were in a group with someone in control of them. And it was simply because the town was scared to death of the color. George Foreman was one of the boys. You know, the boxer? I remember seeing him a couple of times… You know, every one of them were polite when you would encounter them on the street.” (p. 59-60)
“Gary Carter”: “And then when this was the Job Corps center, the big kick was the blacks. Boy, they just gave them such a bad time that they finally had to close it down. I think that was a lot of it. They were having problems downtown. They were trying to let the guys from the Job Corps center come down %u2014 they can’t hang out there all the time. Come down and do stuff in town. Go down to the Rollerdrome. I was there were they were there a couple of times. And boy, I mean, it was just like, you know, a wall of ice. I know they had some serious fights down there. About the time they were kicking around the notion that it probably wasn’t a good idea to have the Job Corps center here.” (p. 102)
“Wayne Douglas”: “They didn’t want any non-whites spending a night in Grants Pass. I can remember my mother being threatened because she served some black people.” At the Yellow Cafe, in about 1947. “It scared her. And I didn’t understand sundown laws, and I didn’t realize Grants Pass was like that until I left.” He then volunteered for race relations workshop training because he was pissed off about his Mom being threatened. (p. 114; 118)
“Sue Cleary”: “At one point %u2014 I think it was in the early sixties, maybe 59. My dad had come home and said that our sheriff had %u2014 the bus had come through, and some black men, I guess, were going to get off. And he says, ‘We don’t want any trouble here. You get back on the bus and you stay there!’ And I just got really upset. I was only ten or something. But I was real angry that we were having this kind of a social problem, and I couldn’t believe it!” (p. 135)
“Dorothy Harris”: “It still is not all that common to see a black person in Medford or Grants Pass, but it hasn’t been all that long ago that there were actually sundown laws for them. They just plain had to be out of town by dark. My husband’s parents were stationed at Camp White during the war, and they had a troop train come in with black soldiers on it. And they actually had the curtains drawn, just so people wouldn’t know that they came through town.” (p. 170)

Other Grants Pass residents recall that there used to be a sign, taken down around 1965.

An Oregon resident writes,
%u201CI’ve lived in Oregon for 30 years now and people from Grants Pass proudly proclaim that Grants Pass was “the last town in Oregon that maintained a Sundown Law.” I’ve never looked into it, though. I have seen pictures of the KKK marching in the 4th of July celebration in Ashland. Southern Oregon remains, of course, a center of Christian Identity and similar groups.%u201D (Ashland, 1950, 7,739 total, 3 blacks)

A black Oregon resident writes:

%u201CI grew up in Oregon [1950s] after moving from my native Alabama at the age of 6. While living in Portland I heard from older black acquaintances about “sundown towns” they passed through in southern Oregon when traveling between Oregon and California. The two towns that I recall hearing the most about are Grants Pass and Medford. If what I heard is true, you might also find that Roseburg had a similar character. I actually visited these towns as early as the 1950s, and encountered no incidents. While an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, I spent a weekend at the home of one of my classmates in Grants Pass; but this may not be representative since his father had a local reputation as a non conformist. Later, I did find the local law officials less than friendly even in the 1960s when I drove through such towns on occasion in my visits home from graduate school in Berkeley. Their attitude could, however, have just been reflective of a general suspiciousness of obvious outsiders, rather than any type of racial bias.
The most graphic descriptions I recall from older people who had experienced the racism directly were of signs they read posted on the highway. One in Grants Pass allegedly read: “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you in this county.” Another I heard about, regarding a town I no longer recall, was said to have read: “Nigger, read this and keep running.” To place this somewhat in context, despite Oregon’s well-deserved reputation as a pioneering progressive republican state with a strong tradition of political and, to some extent, social liberalism, it was also at one point a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan. In this instance the main groups targeted were Jews, Asians, Mexicans and Indians, rather than Blacks, because the number of Blacks present was negligible before the war industries transported thousands of families like mine there in the early 1940s. That other type of racism produced such signs as: “No dogs, Jews, or Chinamen,” which I have only seen in photographs, not in action.
“Blacks were afraid to drive through Grants Pass or Medford.” In the mid-1960s, “a black friend of mine put a loaded pistol on the front seat of his car when he drove through those towns.” “Not until the late 1960s or 1970s could black people feel safe and secure in taking long car trips.” (owing to regular segregation)
In Medford: The police stopped the car in which I was getting a ride, and we were not speeding, but were a mixed car, two whites and a black, and they searched the car cursorily. “Where are you going?” “What are you carrying?” Made us get out of the car. “The first thought that came to my mind was the fact that I’m black.” My friends had never been stopped before, without me.%u201D

A Grants Pass resident writes:
%u201CI was made aware that Grants Pass and Medford and Klamath Falls all had the sundown law. Every so often they run a history page in the paper. About a year ago they had a picture about half of the paper size of a parade in downtown Grants Pass and It was nothing but people in white robes and hoods. There must of been hundreds of them the picture appeared to be around the 1940’s or 50’s. I am glad to say there are people of color in Grants Pass today and I haven’t heard of any problems. The hispanic population is getting larger as well. At the elementary school where I work I would say we have about 10%. As well as Asian and other minority races.%u201D

During Dr. Loewen%u2019s talk on Southern Oregon Public Radio, February 12, 2002, one person phoned in to say he understood blacks were not allowed on the streets of Grant’s Pass after sundown, in the 1970s.

A Grants Pass resident writes:
%u201CI got to Grants Pass in 75. They were still harassing hippees then. Faternal orders ruled the town (elks, moose, oddfellows, masons) Symbol “cavemen” .. Texan Welch (sp) had a bircher society, plus a “new opinion” bookshop (still here). GP still has a mail drop for the KKK. Today GP is 25,000 mostly retired with less than 1% other than white. The “Schmidt House” part of the Grants Pass Historical Society has copies of the “Courier” back to the mid 50’s.
A black man who drove a grey hearse and wore caftan& fez was assaulted in early 90s on the main street by white thugs. When he tried to pursue legal recourse against his attackers , the police department and the DA laughed at him and dismissed his allegations. Roy Masters moved his outfit from LA to GP in 83 & opened a commune thrift store run by his people (who were black). The politics of those early 80’s show a significant shift towards tolerance, but the “Masters” group were constantly harassed by the “old boys” for permits and paperwork eventually forcing that movement out of this area.. I have a friend who moved here in the 60’s who is black who can attest to all this. I also know a woman who had a cross burned in front of her house in 1976 when she befriended a man of mixed blood.%u201D