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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1066

Essay

Part One

The book “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism” can tell readers a lot about racism in the United States. The title of the book comes from the kinds of signs that used to be posted at the edges of these whites-only towns. These signs would have slogans such as “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in Our Town” which would make it clear to African-Americans that if they were caught in that town after dark they would very likely face violence or even death. Speaking as an African-American, it is easy to understand this “sundown town mentality. Even if these signs no longer exist, I know very well that there are still towns or neighborhoods where I would not be welcome. The book explains how the legal rules that established sundown towns may no longer be enforced, but the racism that drove them still exists, keeping many towns either all-white or mostly-white to this day.

Part Two

The book begins with a discussion of the town of Anna, in southern Illinois. In 1909, following a lynching, the town “expelled their African-Americans” (Loewen, p3). The name of the town even became known as an acronym for the phrase “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed” (Loewen, p3). The author discusses the history of sundown towns like Anna by pointing out that they mostly started years after the Civil War. It is interesting to read that these sundown towns did not exist very frequently in the South, even though race relations there were difficult during and after the Civil War, and during the time known as Reconstruction, which took place after the Civil War. As race relations grew worse in the decades after the Civil War, it was the towns in the North and other parts of the U.S. that established themselves as sundown towns. According to the book, between 1890 and 1968 “probably a majority of all incorporated places kept out African-Americans” (Loewen, p4).

In the year 2000, “neither Anna nor its companion city of Jonesboro had a single African-American household within their corporate limits” (Loewen, p22.). This means that the rules and policies that made sundown towns possible are somehow still keeping African Americans out of these towns. It was not always this way, though, because in the years after the Civil War a sense of “anti-racism” (Loewen, p29) made it possible for African Americans to move all over the United States. By 1890, however, race relations grew worse, and many towns across the country began a wave of “ethnic cleansing” (Loewen, p28) intended to drive out African Americans. African Americans were “demonized” (Loewen, p38) by whites, and found it difficult to take advantage of the rights that were given to them in the Constitution. The more they were demonized, the more difficult it became for them, and the more they were blamed for their difficulties by whites.

Many of these early sundown towns “passed ordinances or informally agreed” (Loewen, p49) that African Americans could not live in them. This continued “at least until 1968” (Loewen, p49). This seemed “perfectly reasonable” Loewen, p49) to the white residents of these towns, who had decided that African Americans were a problem. The South was different, because whites in the South saw African Americans as “workers to be exploited and sometimes problems to be controlled but not expelled” (Loewen, p70). Despite the fact that slavery was mostly significant in the South, it was everywhere else that the sundown towns became common. In the middle of the 20th century suburbs began to be built all across the country, and many of these suburbs were specifically built to keep out African Americans and other minorities. Many of these suburbs were built “rather recently, many between 1946 and 1968” (Loewen, p79). Sundown towns were originally created by threats and violence (Loewen, p94), and towns would sometimes hold “spectacle lynchings” (Loewen, p97) to convince the African Americans in the town that they should move out as quickly as possible.

Although some things changed after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1968, many sundown towns continue to have very few or no African Americans to this day. The book describes how homeowners and realtors would refuse to sell to African Americans as a way to keep sundown towns all-white. While this is technically illegal, it is not always easy to prove. There are many other social and economic factors that have made it possible for many of these towns to basically continue to be sundown towns to this day.  Loewen (p 378) says that “many towns are still locked into the exclusionary policies of the past.”

Part Three

This book would definitely be a valuable resource for teaching American history. So much of American history is told from the perspective of white people, and how Europeans supposedly discovered America. The basic stories about how the Revolutionary War made the United States a free country and the Civil War freed the slaves are taught to every student. But the stories about how difficult it was for African-Americans even after slavery ended do not always get told. A good way to teach this point o view would be to have students read the book and then look for news stories or other recent events that show how racism still exists. The news story about TV Chef Paula Deen made it clear that Paula Deen does not really understand that she is a racist. Last week a story as in the news about a town in Ohio that is trying to keep the state from building bus stops in that town, because they are concerned that people from the city would come into their town. Even if they do not come right out and say it, it is obvious that the almost all-white town is worried about the bus bringing in African-Americans from the city. Even if the laws about sundown towns have gone away, there are still many ways that racism keeps African-Americans and whites apart, and this book can help students understand this better.

Works Cited

“Exclusive: Paula Deen Denies New Racist Claims | ETonline.com.” www.etonline.com. N.p., 26 July 2013. Web. 6 Aug. 2013.

Loewen, James W. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

“Mostly-White Ohio Suburb Fighting To Prevent Mostly-Black Bus-Riders From Entering Community.” ThinkProgress. N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 6 Aug. 2013.

Tepper, Rachel. “Paula Deen Racist Comments, Use Of N-Word Allegedly Caught On Video [UPDATED].” The Huffington Post. N.p., 21 June 2013. Web. 6 Aug. 2013.

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