Sundown Towns are all-white communities, neighborhoods, or counties that exclude Black people and other minorities through the use of discriminatory laws, harassment, and use of violence. The name comes from the posted and verbal warnings issued to Blacks that although they might be allowed to work or travel in a community during the daytime, they must leave by sundown.

Historians estimate there were up to 10,000 sundown towns in the United States between 1890 and 1960, mostly in the Mid-West and West. They started to proliferate during the Great Migration, starting in approx. 1910, when large numbers of Black Americans left the South to escape racism and poverty. While Black people started to move to other regions of the country, many majority white communities actively discouraged them from settling there.

The ways to announce and enforce racial restrictions came across the country. In the blatant form, signs were posted at the city limits. In one city Alix, Arkansas, in the 1930s, had a sign up that, read, “N—-r, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On You In Alix.” Others stated, “Whites Only After Dark.” Many sundown towns used discriminatory housing covenants to ensure no non-white person would be allowed to purchase or rent a home. In the 1940s, Edmond, Oklahoma had postcards with the slogan, “A Good Place to Live…No Negroes.” The town of Mena, Arkansas advertised: “Cool Summers, Mild Winters, No Blizzards, No Negroes.”

Black Americans who were in sundown towns even in the daytime experienced harassment, threats, arrest, and beatings. It was not uncommon for Black travelers passing through these communities to be followed by police or local residents to the city limits. In some cases, hostility toward Black Americans resulted in extrajudicial killing. The lynching of two Black teens in Marion, Indiana, in 1930, for instance, resulted in the town’s 200 Black residents moving away never to return.

The rise of sundown towns made it difficult and dangerous for Black people to travel long distances by car. In 1930, for instance, 44 of the 89 counties along the famed Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles featured no motels or restaurants and prohibited Blacks from entering after dark. Victor H. Green, a postal worker from Harlem, created the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide to accommodations that served Black travelers. The guide was published from 1936 to 1966, and at its height of popularity was used by two million people.

Historians have came to the conclusion that majority of sundown towns deliberately hid the means by which they became and remained all-white. Outside of oral histories, there are often few archival records that describe precisely how sundown towns excluded Blacks.

Source:

Coen, R. (2020, August 23). Sundown Towns. BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/sundown-towns/

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