Home » Ohio » Shelby

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?
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?

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1920 5578 4
1930 6198 2
1940 6643 0
1950 7971 2
1960 9106 0
1970 9847 0
1990 9506 12
2000 9821 14 18 24
2010 9317 19 16 26

Method of Exclusion

  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • German Catholic
  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Testimony of a former resident: “For what it’s worth…I’m from north central Ohio, and I know of one overtly Sundown Town–Shelby. I lived there in the late seventies and eighties and although I never saw a sign, it was mentioned with a certain amount of pride by some residents. The sign allegedly came down sometime in the sixties. This town’s reputation as a Sundown Town is so ingrained, that the first thing to come up in conversation when the town’s name is mentioned, is the sign and the fact that the town is unfriendly to blacks. What is so enlightening about your book is the fact that, growing up (in the 1960’s and 70’s), I always thought of Shelby as some sort of northern anomaly. I thought that blacks ‘just naturally’ wanted to live in the larger cities. My goodness, how naive I was!
I’ll give you just a little background on me and the area in which I am speaking of. I’m 46 and was born and raised in rural Richland county, OH. Our family settled there in the early 19th century. Our religious background was originally Anabaptist, then Unitarian, then evangelical. The hills and valleys of the southern part of Richland co.(where I was raised) is almost exclusively Protestant (evangelical and mainline), while the flat, glacial plain of the northern half (where Shelby is located) has a large German Catholic presence along with a sprinkling of mainline and evangelical churches. In the center of the county is Mansfield (population around 55,000), where virtually all the black people in Richland county live.
I would have to say that I was influenced much more by the times I grew up in than the attitudes of the rural culture around me–I think this is true of many (but certainly not the majority) of my contemporaries. My father (an atheist) was a former WWII marine who was a mason, cattle farmer, and owned a bar in downtown Mansfield. My mother (a devout evangelical), besides being a homemaker, worked as a telephone operator in downtown Mansfield. Both of my parents had contact with blacks due to their work and business. They were certainly not liberals in regards to race and other issues of the day, but they also were not overtly racist, either. I don’t remember hearing them utter any of the words commonly used to describe blacks and other minorities. They also didn’t complain about desegregation or the civil rights laws of the 60’s. If they did have strong feelings regarding these issues, they must have kept them to themselves for I don’t recall them talking about it the way I recall them talking about the student unrest and other cultural changes of the 60’s–something I recall very vividly! The afternoon the Kent State killings is seared in my mind forever, for example. Many of our neighbors, on the other hand (who were recent transplants from Kentucky and West Virginia) were overtly racist and were, for example, Wallace supporters in the 1968 election. I would have to say that the area that I grew up in is far more conservative today than it was in the 1960’s and 70’s. Many of my contemporaries that were former hedonists (and liberal leaning politically) are now “born again” evangelicals (and arch conservative). A strange phenomenon is the Confederate flag adorning some of the trucks and cars (along with “W” stickers) in my hometown–since no one hails from the south, I can only assume that it has some racist connotation.
Anyway,…I would have to say that a typical conversation regarding the ‘sundown’ aspect of Shelby would involve me repeating to someone that I had lived and worked in Shelby for some time–usually an acquaintance, or an acquaintance of a friend or something like that. Invariably, they will always say something to the effect: ‘Isn’t that a really racist town?’ ‘Didn’t they until recently have a sign on the outskirts telling blacks to be out of town by sundown?’ ‘My grandfather said that there used to be sign that said……’ ‘What was it like to live there?’ ‘Was the Klan there?’ Also, when I worked in Shelby (at a bowling products factory), there were several blacks that worked there and when we would have parties and bowling leagues that went beyond sundown, they and others would joke that they were in town ‘past curfew.’ I never noticed any racial problems at the factory at all although the blacks that worked there may have a different opinion. I don’t know.”

According to a former resident: “In the late 1960’s a friend had a summer exchange student – a black South African – and I overheard some adults pondering about “Should she be allowed in the city swimming pool?” Shelby was semi-rural, all white but we played area high school teams with black players. I think she was allowed in the pool but I had not before heard the implied racism of that question.”

Testimony from another former resident: “I grew up in Shelby in the 70’s and early 80’s and I remember people I knew bragging about running black people out of town if they caught them there after dark. Also when I was a teenager I worked in Mansfield and the black people I met always said they wouldn’t step foot in Shelby, especially after dark. About 10 years ago I was talking to one of my old high school teachers and he said he missed the way Shelby used to be you know a lily white town; it made me sick, I just walked away. The sign isn’t there anymore but there is still racist undercurrents.”