Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sundown Towns

A sundown town is a town that is or was purposely all-White. The term is widely used in the United States and Canada in areas from Ohio to Oregon and well into the South. Even in Canada many towns in Southern Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec were sundown towns prior to 1982, when it was outlawed. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns”. The term is less common in suburbia and on the East Coast, even though the concept was still prevalent in those places. Residents were often systematically excluded from living in or sometimes even passing through these communities after the sun went down. This allowed maids and workmen to provide unskilled labor during the day. They came into existence in the late 19th century during what sociologists have described as the nadir of American race relations. Sundown towns existed throughout the United States, but more often were located in the northern states that were not pre-Civil War slave states. There have not been any de jure sundown towns in the country since the legislation in the 1960s inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement, though de facto sundown towns and counties, where few if any black families live, are still exist.

The definite work on sundown towns is James Loewen's Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York: The New Press, 2005.

For an excellent article on sundown town written for The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture: Click Here.

For an interview with James Loewen: Click Here.

For James Loewen's Sundown Towns web page: Click Here.

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