Home » California » Taft

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?

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
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
1930 3442 0
1940 3205 0
1950 3707 0
1960 3822 0
1970 2064 0
1990 5902 62
2000 6400 5322 126 54 898 5

Method of Exclusion

  • Threat of Violence
  • Private Bad Behavior
  • Reputation

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black
  • Asian


email 9/2007:
Negro Soldiers Will be Sent to Taft Air BaseFresno Bee June 15, 1941

Taft (Kern County), June 14.–Congressman A. J. Elliott of Tulare has notified mayor H. H. Bell of Taft that a truck unit of Negro soldiers
will be assigned to the Taft basic air training school.

Eliot reported on the army’s plan after being advised by Mayor Bell
that Taft has never had any Negro population and would prefer to have
only white soldiers sent to the local air base.


Of Taft’s current black population, only 13 are women, suggesting that most of the black population is associated with a military base,
prison, or other such institution.

“Taft, California used to have a sign that said something to the effect that non whites were to be out of town by sunset. I remember my family talking about it when I was a kid. I don’t know when they took the sign down but I’ll bet it wasn’t until the 60’s. I assume it meant Indians too.”
-Native American CA resident

“Taft was a virulently racist place at the time [1950s and 60s], and African Americans were especially despised… I do not know if the strictures barring nonwhites in Taft were official or merely de facto. The existence of an ‘unwritten law’ against the presence of African Americans after sundown, however, was widely and frequently proclaimed.
Integration came briefly to Taft in the mid 1960s when the local community college entered a powerful football conference and began to recruit
nationally. If there was one thing that Taftians loved, more than they hated blacks, it was football.
If memory serves, this interlude with tolerance lasted a year or two until some incident resulted in a near riot and the expulsion of resident black
athletes from town” in the late 1960s.
-former resident of Taft

In the 1980’s, some Taft residents “trashed a black home (with paint and graffiti)” and told the
family to “get out of town”.

In 1995, historian Olen Cole, Jr., interviewed black former members of the Civilian Conservation
Corps, who reported that Taft had a sundown sign in the 1930s: “‘As we entered the city a sign read,
“Read nigger and run; if you can’t read – run anyway. Nigger don’t let the sun go down on you in Taft.”‘ The importance of this experience is that it remained vivid in the memory of the former enrollee. Many years later he is still able to remember the entire wording on the sign. ‘Even today when I visit Fresno,’ he remarked, ‘I make it a point to bypass Taft.'”

Taft was also hostile to Chinese people. In 1999, a Chinese American reported that in the 1960s “we didn’t go to Taft… I’m not saying you’d
have gotten lynched or anything, but you didn’t feel

August 2007
The anecdote about the football players isn’t totally correct; I remember there being a happy ending. I believe an incident was sparked by interracial dating and a civic crisis ensued, but ultimately the black team members (on scholarships) stayed on and the town reluctantly grew up.
I was born/raised in Taft but haven’t lived there for years–an article in Sports Illustrated from the 80s (?) was brought to my attention. Bruce McCall, editor of the local paper, the Daily Midway Driller, at the time, was quoted in the article.