Focus 580; Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America
Good morning this is Focus 580 our morning telephone talk show. My name is Jack Brighton sitting in for your regular host David Inge. Our producers are Harriet Williamson and Martha Diehl and Henry Frayne is at the controls during this hour of focus 580 will talk about a very interesting new history book entitled sundown towns a hidden dimension of racism in America. The term sundown towns is basically the idea is a lot of towns around the country and especially here in the Midwest excluded minorities after dark and of the turn comes from our guest James Lowen. He's a historian and sociologist and author of the book will be discussing during this hour. And what's been really fascinating to me is I've read the book. I often go out for lunch or whatever and I read you know to do my homework for the show. And I would run into people and they say what are you reading and I show in the book. And instantly people would have stories about various towns where they grew up around here in the Midwest and they say oh yes there was a sign on the bridge that said if you're you know probably not the kind of word I want to use but if you're basically a minority don't be in town when the sun
goes down. And that's the origin of the term sundown towns. We'll talk about that during this hour James Lowe and by the way grew up in Decatur Illinois and has had a distinguished career as a sociologist and historian. He's professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont where for 20 years he taught courses in race relations. He's also the author of the bestselling book Lies My Teacher Told Me Everything your American History Textbook Got wrong and his other books include laws across America and Mississippi conflict and change. He's also a distinguished lecturer of the Organization of American historians and a member of the American Historical Association and the American Sociological Association. His latest book sundown towns was published this month by The New Press. And we'll talk about what's in the book during this hour of the show. We invite you into the conversation if you have questions comments stories of your own. You can join us. The phone number around champagne Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have a toll free line anywhere you hear us around the Midwest if you're listening
online anywhere in the U.S. in fact 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5 and we welcome you to join our conversation. Thanks for being here. It's my pleasure. How did you get on the trail of the subject of the book sundown towns where it's a good question because growing up in Decatur I vaguely knew that all these little towns around Decatur like Nyan YC and Paine and Mago and Monticello were all white but it never occurred to me that that was on purpose. I kind of figured well you know I kind of like living in Decatur there's there's more movies and stuff to see so why wouldn't black folks feel the same way you know. So it just never occurred to me. I went to college in Northfield Minnesota I went to Carleton College and there I learned of one sundown town and that was Dinah Minnesota which was and is the most prestigious and the wealthiest suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. And in the early 60s when I was in college people from Medina told me some with pride that it Dinah had not one negro and not one Jew.
Just for the record today it has one of each. But back then it didn't. Now I just kind of thought I fell that away filed away in my mind but I thought that's outrageous you know. And then I learned about a similar wealthy suburb outside of New York City that is doing in Connecticut and was actually quite famous briefly for keeping out Jews. There was a book written about it a novel called gentleman's agreement which was then made into the Academy Award winning movie for nine hundred forty eight gentlemen's agreement starring Gregory Peck. And of course it had no blacks the only African-Americans allowed to spend the night were live in servants. And then I was I was outraged then it was actually here in Champagne Urbana at the University of Illinois when a student told me several years ago now because I've often been a scholar in residence here for a week or so and a student told me that he grew up near Illinois and that everybody in Ana and everybody in nearby towns knew that Ana meant A N N A. Ain't no niggers allowed. And in
fact that that is true. Now of course Ana was named for somebody named Nana in 1854. But I came to learn that in 1909 and drove out its black population and it has been a sundown town ever since. Now when I say ever since I have to qualify that I don't know if an African-American household couple whatever can live in an AA safely and happily today. Hey I do know that people like the newspaper editor the research librarian and and others told me that they didn't think that any such household existed as of 2002 and 2003 which is when I did research Amana course this is 2005 maybe it's all changed. But I call them sundown towns rather than continuing sundown towns or former sundown towns because I can't really know what happened last year or last month. So how widespread are these sundown. That's the key question when I started to do this research. I figured I was
going to do a little more research in Illinois than any other place because if somebody told me oh you know Villa Grove was a sundown town well growing up in Decatur I kind of knew where Villa Grove was you know. But I have done research in Oregon in Florida and all over the US. I expected to find 10 sundown towns in Illinois and maybe 50 across the country. Instead I believe I have actually found approximately four hundred seventy two sundown towns in Illinois alone which would mean something like 10000 nationally and I would point out that Illinois has a total of about 600 70 towns larger than a thousand people. That means a majority. In fact over 65 percent of all incorporated towns in Illinois had sundown policies. And I think the same was true in Indiana in Oregon and in several other states outside the traditional South. And that's an interesting part of the story. Sometimes
people would usually people say to me when I tell them what I mean searching oh yeah down in Mississippi Alabama and I say no not at all. And I did in fact an exhausting study of Mississippi and I located six probable sundown towns three of which are no are not sundown towns anymore compared to 472 in Illinois. The traditional south just never did this why would you make your maid leave. Why would you make your cotton pickers leave you. That's very interesting. Well talk about the policies that result in you know what you turn sundown towns I mean was it an official policy was it. You know it's a good question. You know how to work. Well it varies. Many many towns have a tradition of having passed an ordinance. And I'll give you an example from from Arcola which is about 20 30 miles south of here. Yeah. I went to our COLA and I'd already heard from many former or present residents that it was a sundown town. So I dropped in at the Town Hall.
They all told me it had a it had an ordinance and so I talked to the clerk Now this wasn't the town clerk This is the clerk in the town hall usually town closer at home gardening or something but anyway. And and I said to her. Hi my name is Jim Lowe and I grew up in Decatur course when you were doing research in Illinois I would mention that. And I'm doing a study of of all white towns that for a long time were all white on purpose and and I've heard that our call is one of these usually I would ask. But in this case I don't have it confirmed so many times that I didn't really ask. And she noted I said now there's our caller have any kind of ordinance about this. And she replied You mean like our sundown ordinance. That's what I've heard it called. And I said yes. And she said Oh yes. And I said Well can you show it with me. And she said well sure but it's for 20. And that's the time it was 4:20 p.m. and it might take a little while to find it could you come back tomorrow morning. So I said fine I came back tomorrow
morning. We went through records and stuff we looked for two hours and we couldn't find it. Now does it exist. I think it does. And I think what happened was some city council meeting in you know February 8th 900 12 or something passed it but it never got into the codify book of ordinances in fact some small towns don't even have a codify billions of ordinances but everybody knows they passed. And since everybody knows they passed it they abide by it. And if a black family moved in in such a town they would be told to leave by the chief of police in many cases and in many many towns I've heard stories of that's exactly what happened. Now other towns. Even people told me that we never passed an ordinance we never needed to. That is they just did it informally. And the number one way of doing it informally is through bad behavior. Give me an example of bad behavior please. I don't mean to pick on on I cola but I do have this very eloquent story of bad behavior given to me
by a former Arcola resident. Actually she's approved my use of her name Diana McCarty. She was in seventh grade in Arcola in one hundred seventy eight. And you know nobody knows everything in a small town so she heard through the grapevine that a new family was moving in with two little kids and she's all excited because she's a babysitter for seventh grade. So here's what she writes. Later in the week I was in the school office. This is probably the grade one through eight school office. When I saw a black woman at the secretary's desk she looked angry. I overheard that her children could not get registered for school until all their records got transferred. I also overheard lots of conversation regarding not knowing what happened to the records and blaming the mail service etc.. It didn't dawn on me what was happening until a few days later after school at my grandfather's shop which was located across the side alley from the grocery store as the main supermarket in town. Now at this point reading this it hadn't really dawned on me what had happened I hope my readers my listeners are a little smarter than I am. Then she
goes on to write the same woman I had seen in the office at school pulled up to the Bible and got out of her car with her two kids. She went to the front door and there was a closed sign on it and the doors were locked. She looked around as I did because the parking lot was full. People inside looked to be shopping. I met her gaze and in a brief instant I had an epiphany. The light bulb was so bright I thought I was blinded. I was so angry I took her across the alley and she met my grandpa. They talked in hushed tones while I played with the kids. I overheard them talking about where she could get some things. He offered her gas. He had her own his own above ground tank. The grandfather ran the only auto body shop in town and see this is an issue where she going to buy gas if nobody sells her gas which is the case in many sundown towns. And he gave me the names in the locations of some Amish friends of yours that could supply her with milk eggs meat etc.. They were there one day and a couple of weeks later they were gone. I don't blame them for leaving in the middle of the night. Business slowed at my
grandfather's shop for a while you see simply for the reason that he had befriended them. But it picked up back up with time. He was the only auto body shop in town. Now that's that's the kind of story I get from. Story in Arkansas from the town of Ozark Arkansas which is in the non southern part of Arkansas if you will again the southern part of our present. We can do it but in northwest Arkansas it's more Midwestern and Ozark and of course the town of Ozark is in the Ozarks and a student that I met college students said that when she was in seventh grade which would be just 1995 or so. A black family moved to town. Their two kids get on the school bus to go to school. They get beaten up before they ever get to school and the family moved. We'll talk about more stories and what's the history of some of this stuff let me just reintroduce our guest and we have a couple callers will get right to. We're talking this morning with James Lowen. He's the author of sundown towns a hidden dimension of racism in America. The book just published
by The New Press and it details the history and the mechanisms of this phenomena he calls sundown towns those towns which officially exclude African-Americans and other minorities and he found a surprising number to say the least of these in his research. We have a couple callers in time for others if you'd like to join us the number around Champaign-Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. Toll free elsewhere. 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Let's talk with some listeners. OK. First up is someone online number four. Good morning. Yes yes. My aunt. Yes you are OK. First I want to. Actually him on his books they are excellent and I just want to mention that a couple years ago I emailed him with some information and I just want to know whether he had confirmed it. Let me mention to you briefly what the information was and then let him talk. I wonder stood over the years that in train
passenger trains going from Chicago's south to toward Memphis that's the point at which they had to segregate. I had to start segregating was mad to me. And I just wonder if he had come from that let me mention one of the thing in defense of Matt toon. I would assume at least that this suggests that there wasn't a huge problem with integration in Matt. That's right but there would be a very big problem when you go out so much. I thought I would say that the fence Matchroom sure but I just wonder if he had confirmed that or whether he was unable to confirm it enough to produce that. I don't I don't put it in my book. I heard it from you and I may have heard it from one other person. What is what it's a really a story about though is f ing him f ing him is the next stop south I believe. And EVERINGHAM was a notorious sundown town until just recently in fact effing Ham was so amazing that
African-Americans were often not allowed on the streets of Effingham even during the day except in certain locations. It was an issue getting from the bus station for instance to the train station and of course Everingham is on a major intersection of interstates and before the interstates it was on about 40 the national road and on a main north south road. It's also want to major intersection of railroads. Of course it's got the city of New Orleans that you were talking about and you know there used to be several trains a day going north south on the only central and the New York Central's main route from the east to St. Louis also goes through. F ing him calls itself the crossroads of America or something like that. And so I had just all kinds of other horrifying stories about how African-Americans were harassed and were told to stay in the train station or in the bus station or were sometimes allowed on the streets between the two but not elsewhere in Effingham So although I haven't confirmed that that's
when you know segregated seating started on the only central going south. Yeah it's plausible. It makes sense. OK congratulations on your work. Thanks. OK thank you. Thanks for the call. Okay. We'll go on to next to a listener on line number one. Good morning Ron focus 580. Hello I'm calling about three months of a friend down. I'm would like to ask you what you know about and let me say this. There are so many suspects both in Illinois and across the country. Ten thousand in all that I haven't been able to confirm them all I have confirmed Monticello without a doubt in fact I've heard both. Incidentally the black community in Champaign-Urbana many members of it are quite aware of Monticello and many folks are a little leery being there at night. Even now Benton at were both on my suspect list but I don't know that I've confirmed at this point my computer smarter than I am. Can I ask have you ever heard that about either of those towns.
Well I am. I'm African-American OK like brands that live in those towns or grew up in those towns. And when I I'm fascinated by your book because when I suspected those towns were we call them euphemistically life like suburb town is which you know you don't say sundown but I always wondered about my friends who live there and all I was there recently asked what they had about them in terms of their racial. Yeah. Let me speak to that just for a minute. I was somewhat amazed by all that too. I mean it's one thing to have white flight from say Detroit which as a result of white flight is now 74 percent black. There are a lot of white folks leaving Detroit could convince themselves that their neighborhood at least was going to go all black and they didn't want to be the only white an all black neighborhood and you know I am white and I can empathize with that I actually live in a majority black neighborhood in D.C. but you know I'm not
asking anybody to be a racial pioneer. But then I discovered all this white flight from Champaign Urbana from Decatur and even more amazingly from Joplin Missouri. Now the caterer and Champaign Urbana about 17 18 19 percent black. There's no possibility in the foreseeable future that any of those three towns are going to go all black you know not even very many neighborhoods are so white flight from them I think does say something about it. Fear or dislike or or worry about African-Americans. The most amazing case though is I learned of white flight from Joppa Joplin Missouri to the town of Webb City. Why is that so amazing. Because Joplin Missouri is 2 percent black. And so some of the white flight destinations that I've learned of around here Muhammad farmer City St. Joe Monticello. I hadn't really done any work on but met Annette wood painter is a destination from Decatur and several other towns around Decatur Monroe Forsyth and so on. And it just
amazes me then that there is white flight from such white cities. All right well thank you for your so much for the call. We have a couple calls I'll get right to them but I want to make sure we get a chance to talk about some of the history of how this happened. As you write about in the book the period of time in our history following the Civil War there was increased integration increased civil political economic rights for all Americans especially for former slaves and the great. Sort of spreading of the populations of all Americans throughout the nation. And then we get to a period which you write about began in about 1890. You call it the nadir. Yes. What happened that that amazed me too. We have this period called the nadir of race relations were dated 1890 for sure that's exactly when it starts and it ends around 940. And during this period of time race relations actually got worse in America. Now this shakes people up because we tend to think of everything
and I can get it better transportation got better medicine got better and we used to think of race relations getting better after all we used to have slavery now we don't. You know we used to not let blacks in the major leagues. Then Jackie Robinson came along now we do. But it's not that simple and in fact the major leagues provide a good example. African-Americans were in the major leagues until the nadir. They played in the 1970s and 80s. The last one played in 1889 for the then Baltimore Orioles not actually the same team as the current ones. And then they got thrown out as the nater set forth. Another interesting thing I thought in my naivete that black folks just naturally kind of naturally went from the south to Chicago I knew they ended up in the South Side of Chicago and they ended up in Decatur and they ended up in the larger cities but that wasn't naturally that is to say if you look at the statistics of 1890 it turns out black folks in Illinois are more rural than white folks are. The percentage of whites in Chicago was 27 percent the percentage of
blacks in Chicago was something like 24 percent. But then between 1890 in 1900 what happens I call the great retreat. And blacks get driven out of or forced out of Mahomet which had a black population a Dyna Minnesota the suburb of Minneapolis which was founded among some of the founders were black but they get forced out of the Dyna they get driven out of pick eveil they get driven out of town after town in Illinois or they pass ordinances or think they did not to let them in. So this is a creation of the period 1898 in 1940 and I have a whole analysis as to why that happened. And just to make it very short I would say that in 1890 the Republicans who were the good guys on race relations the interation party in the 1040 wings theory the party of Lincoln which the Democrats call themselves the white man's party at that time. Well the Republicans gave up on race relations in 1991. And I can actually exactly pretty much say when and why they happen and when they gave up on it. Of course the Democrats were nothing but races back then. So then there was nobody
enforcing the Constitution the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution went by the boards and blacks were deprived of citizenship in the south. Beginning in 1890 with the Mississippi constitution it was passed down. And that's one of the reasons we date the nadir for MITI 90. But what people don't realize is that Nader also happened in the north. The Ku Klux Klan becomes the biggest thing in many towns. So we see that for instance in towns like Villa Grove even Champaign Urbana clan has huge meetings meetings of 6000 people in a little town south of here or east or west of here. The biggest meetings ever held in many of these towns in the history the hundred fifty year history the town were Klan meetings in the 1980s. Well this is this is when sundown towns originated. I promise I'll get to the cause as we have three waiting and I don't want to make them wait too long but I think this is an important thing to for us to cover a little bit more. Essentially what happened was political that the leaders especially the Democratic Party because the Republicans were so strong and you know also because the memories
of the Civil War were fading for a lot a lot of people but right at this time but the Democratic Party essentially played the race card in order to gain political power. Yeah. And as a result of the gain of that you know if I'm you know oversimplifying please correct me. As a result of the gains the Democratic Party the Republicans played along as well. Yes a terrible thing happened right in 1890. The fate of the country with regard to progress and mis relations was decided by a single vote. The Republicans and kind of their last gasp of citizenship for all and of and of justice for all. Trying to pass a fair elections bill and it passed the House and it failed in the Senate by one vote. And of course President Benjamin Harrison a Republican would have signed it into law. It's kind of like the 1965 Voting Rights Act wasn't as good as that but it was the step in that direction. But in 1890. Well that wasn't anything new the Democrats had defeated numerous civil rights bills before something passed but they had defeated many. What
was new. Well the Democrats then proceeded proceeded to denounce the Republicans as nothing but nigger lovers as they would put it and literally call them black Republicans. They even invented the word miseducation this is a Democratic Party word saying this is what the Republicans are trying to accomplish. And of course this wasn't a popular program all the way back to Abraham Lincoln he pointed out well you know my sister doesn't really have to marry a black person just if we end slavery you know. But that was the Democrats charge if we end slavery will have been such a nation if we continue if we have civil rights will have miseducation. So in 1991 the Republicans made a new response. They said no we aren't. And you remember the charge was you ain't nothing but a bunch of niggers. Well that's a new reply reply No we aren't. And that's what I mean that's when they gave up. Well there's more to that but we have several callers and I promised I would get to them we'll go next to a listener on line number two. Good morning Ron focus 580.
Good morning I wanted to speak to the issue of Monticello. Yeah. One is for proof from personal experience I'm Hispanic. Dark complection. And I've been in the area about 18 years and I can't remember exactly when I experienced this but I was in in Monticello went into a restaurant with a white woman and man the stares the dirty looks the looks of disgust and contempt and that was a personal experience that I had. Then more recently this is within I think five years and within the past five years a black family moved in one night while they were gone a group of drunk teenagers. Several of them from prominent families vandalized totally vandalized the house and racial slurs get out on the walls. This was proper. It was not prosecuted as a hate crime it was you know and it well boys will be boys the you know they're just
having fun. They got a slap on the wrist and the family moved away. Finally another piece of information that I have. Not been able to confirm is that Monticello still has a city ordinance on the books prohibiting colored people in town after dark. That's what I wanted to share about Monticello and you know one thing I wanted to ask was about what about the big riots in Beverley in Oak Lawn Illinois. This wasn't that long ago. I know that the folks of Beverly Oakland have decided that there are no more blacks east of certain tracks and there was a huge riot a race riot in one of the parks there. And I don't know if your guest can comment on that. Thanks. Thanks for the information on Monticello. It confirms other other stories that I've heard but I hadn't heard that story for instance about about the house.
Again Monticello is one of these many towns like our COLA that has a strong oral tradition of having ordinance. And in fact I got that confirmed by an attorney from Monticello so I think it does but I haven't found it. I haven't even looked in my notes. I mean I've heard the oral tradition of a maybe 150 ordinances and I've only been able to look at about 10 you know there's just too much to do. I didn't know about this riot in Beverly slash Oaklawn. And let me let me say this. Any listener who has information that they'd like to share with me I'd like to give my e-mail address. And here it comes. It is J-Lo and and that's spelled j l o e w e n. That's my name Jim Lowe and J-Lo and at the at sign. Zoo like the animal 0 0 0 0 0 0 dot UVM because I used to be at the University of Vermont dot edu. Again that's J Lo an at Zoo dot UVM dot edu.
And I'd love to hear from you whether you have a disagreement with something I said or some information about a town I didn't even know about or whatever you have to tell me. And I want to say one other thing I really want folks. I'm not trying to sell books on the air but I want folks to go down to their local library in Atwood in the mint in Monticello in every town in Illinois and get them to buy a copy of sundown town then you can read it for free of course. But more than that then there is a an account in that very town which may even be a cent downtown. All of this story because in the history of the United States even though there's probably been 10000 sundown towns this is the first book ever written on the subject. He wanted to ask you about that. Why. Why has no one noticed that I mean isn't this isn't amazing. I mean there have been maybe 10000 lynchings in the history of the United States the big lynching database has actually 4500 but it misses as many as it gets so I'm saying 10000 is a rough guess and there's at least 500 books that have come out on lynching probably more like a thousand. There's more than 500 if you combine the
databases right now from Amazon and the Library of Congress online. So that's something like one book for every 10 lynchings. Same number of sundown towns and there's never been a book on the subject. I think that's because of actual suppression in many cases. For instance many of the of these towns had signs we talked about the signs painted had a sign and it had a sign Pekan had a sign. Towns in Oregon in California and so on had signs. I have asked I've located at least 150 to 200 towns that have a strong oral tradition of having a sign including I know what the sign said was can I get a photo of it. I asked Historical Society ask at the local library. The reply I get is why on earth would we keep that. Well that's only history. It's only one of the defining characteristics of your town. In the case of Ana for instance and I drove out its black population in 1909 and in 1954 published a four hundred fifty six page book on Anna called of course Anna Illinois a century of progress. There's a paragraph on every business
in town there's even a paragraph on the local Dairy Queen. Is there any mention of the expulsion of blacks in one thousand nine. Is there any mention of the town sundown policy is there any mention of what a in any has come to mean nothing. So in terms of the written word it's suppressed. You have to do this kind of research by oral history. Well there's lots more I want to ask but we have several callers and I want to get on with include them in a conversation with the next A-lister on line number three. Good morning. Well did you do any research in southern Wisconsin. Yes. Where did you have in mind Whitewater. Well I went into Wisconsin and I didn't go in very long because I didn't have time. But I did and I also did research by e-mail and phone and so on I heard from some very good historians in Wisconsin one in particular said who was at the Wisconsin Historical Society said my colleagues and I agree that you may find a few of these towns in Illinois but there are none in Wisconsin. We think oh well that's not true.
I grew up in Wisconsin and yeah white water. Yeah. And the oral tradition was that no black person could stand white water overnight. I had a good friend when I was in high school in the 50s who quit her job because she was sold as a waitress she could not serve a black family who would come into the restaurant. And what year was that again probably before 1954. OK. Now by Nanking. These things were changing rapidly. They were definitely both Mexican Americans and black Afro-American living in White Water. There were African-Americans African-Americans going to the university. It was by then a university of White Well yes and there were faculty members I think who were black. There were always a strong anti segregation sentiment in White Water. There were some Jewish families in particular who were strongly opposed to it. I think probably even members of the
NAACP know ha. Well that's wonderful information and I wish you would email it to me. I'm glad you said it on the radio I'm not saying anything about that but I'd love to get it from you in writing. I have well a couple of sundown towns in Wisconsin would include larger cities even the White Water Manitowoc for instance cattle had signs and Appleton which is a city of 50 to 75000 depending on which year you look at this and that is ironic the birthplace of the liberal Republican Party. Yeah well not quite that. Yeah Appleton is the birthplace of Joe McCarthy which is maybe not quite so ironic we'd rather forget that. Yeah if Appleton was a sundown town even though it has Lawrence University there and students going to launch university as late as the early 19th seventies told me they immediately were told that about about Appleton and it may in fact be that every town around Appleton even including Green Bay may have been a sundown town. I haven't
mailed them. I do know that Green Bay was the last team in the NFL to hire a black player. Except for the infamous George Allen owner of the Washington Redskins and of course the name there is part of the problem. He wouldn't do it until he was actually threatened by the federal government with loss of use of the stadium in DC. But other than that this was my mind I would have thought the Green Bay. I mean well there's nothing to fear are they fearing a black influx. You know what's going on. But Green Bay was the last team. Other than that to admit a black player. I think Wisconsin. This is true only to you you did state there were ultra conservatives and bigots and they're also ultra liberals. Oh yeah it makes sense. Thanks for your company the Norwegians and going to Egypt themselves are split. I know they were strongly liberal. I see. OK well thanks for the call. I'm
going to ask one question I think is is kind of important to you raise in the book and then I want to get on to other callers. What is the impact of this phenomenon and desegregation in housing has some deep implication for race relations economic opportunity I mean talk about that. Yeah I think it has all kinds of impact. First of all we might think about it in metropolitan Ewing as the richest suburb in the most prestigious suburb of Chicago. To this day as Kenilworth Kenilworth was founded with documents stating there was to be no blacks and no Jews. Now there weren't for a while then a Jewish family actually rented a house and eventually after living in it for seven years or so on a mental basis bought it and so that maybe broke the Jewish barrier although it maybe didn't I mean there's some issues about that. In the year 2000 not one single black household in Kenilworth. Now the problem with that is it makes it hard for now interracial suburbs
like Oak Park which by the way was a sundown town but Oak Park caved in in 1971 and remarkable black couple bought a house there. It's Oak Park is famously integrated park force that is another former sundown town that famously integrated and is fairly stable integrated today. But it's hard to be an integrated suburb around Chicago because people tend to especially white folks to look up and to model on what's up and what's up is Kenilworth. And so as you become richer yourself you want to buy a house in Kenilworth that's the that's the destination or the Kenilworth of the world is not just Kenilworth. So that's one way that sun down suburbs in this case in play a terrible role in our society. The next thing they do I think they have a terrible impact on white folks. The rhetoric the the words and also the attitudes that are displayed in many sundown towns to this day are just terrible. The
term of choice in many sundown towns and not just in the south where they're rare but in the Midwest and even in the Far West. The term of choice is the n word. I have a wonderful account from somebody actually in Champaign who grew up in oblong Illinois which was a sundown town may still be I don't know. The biggest city to oblong is Tel Haute Indiana. And she went there when she was a little kid to see the pediatrician and she said to be no Intel host there were two things we didn't have an oblong black folks and nuns. And I was talking about them. And my mother said to me No no dear in this town you must use the word negro because of course she was using the word nigger. I mean it's fine to use that term in oblong but just don't use it into a hole. And I've heard of sundown towns where it's still fine to use that term. Well even if we're not talking about that term I don't think it's good for you to grow up in Kenilworth because of course what your parents are saying to you is we want to do everything right for you. We want to give you the best childhood we can. And that means keep blacks
away from you. Obviously there are economic impacts from being excluded from living in particular areas. But then when you can't live somewhere you have to live somewhere else. Yes. So how did this impact you know the cities you know like Chicago and the economic opportunities for the potter and how they had Katrina. Right. Exactly precisely. I mean what you find then is that I think it's not only an economic impact it's also a psychological impact. But it's certainly true that black folks living in the South Side of Chicago don't have very many role models of what's a successful architect. They certainly don't have any role models of a successful white architect because there's no white folks living anywhere near them and they don't have very many role models of a successful black architect because black folks are more likely moved OPAR. So what you end up with is is not just a lack of knowledge of how to be successful that you learn from anybody around you. You also end up with a sense that as I quote
one little kid saying to a Danish interviewer actually we must have done something wrong. We as a group because look they make it you know is that because we're excluded. So there is a legacy of exclusion and hopelessness there that that plays a role to our lines are full is going to talk some more listeners will go next to someone online number one. Good morning Ron focus 580. Good morning. And I think recently horrified as I listened to the show I thought some downtown were saying you know the pay as a good engineer Danna long enough to remember when they boil it when white people boycotted the white barbers who would not cut the hair of black people and that sign really was and then I remember when champagne and her band became
integrated after the word came down about integrating schools and there was a lot of white flight from the community because they didn't want their children from Champaign-Urbana because they didn't want their children to go to school with African-Americans. But I thought that the sundown towns were a thing of the past and I am pretty horrified and justice people boycotted the barbers who would not cut their hair or black people. Those of us who live in Champagne Urbana who visit these grounding towns like Atwood and men and certainly months the fellow and certainly Muhammad Perhaps we should start boycotting these towns these towns advertise these. Business is advertised and WIO well and should WIO not receive advertising from these towns if indeed what you said about
Monticello was this horrible case with them and Monticello or in a home where their young people went and destroyed a home that was alone by an African-American family that's sort of unforgivable and perhaps we should invite the Monticello city council on this show and ask them what they think about such things. And I for one I didn't start boycotting these towns because I don't like to spend my money there. If they are treating African Americans with such contempt and hatred. Well I think you have a point in the last chapter of my book is what to do about this problem. And just as a minimum I would suggest that Monticello should do three things first and not just mine to sell of course Mohamad and Villa grove and all the other towns that have had this policy all 472 of them in Illinois and all 10000 of them across the country. First they should admit it
and this is a heck of a problem. Folks just say ah well we never had a policy you know. It's just been chance. You know when they should admit it. Second they should apologize. And it was a long policy after all George Wallace before he died apologize for segregation. Third they should state we are now open to all and we welcome all. And I think that's just a minimum. And if they don't do that then I suggest some other things that people can do to make some progress on this matter. OK. Up to is the caller's question we have sorry. We have several callers waiting and we're going to go to line number four. Good morning. Hi I have three points that I'd like to make. Just briefly one of the first to set the plate 1968 I went to work for the division of unemployment compensation and I listening in on my interview with
say an unemployed person say what a black person figure said. To determine whether or not I knew what I was stowing and how my interview went and so on and afterwards I guessed someone who is a guy I was and he and I were stolen. The solution was a guy who was appointed the first black office manager in downstate Illinois. But he and Dunstan downstate Illinois unemployment compensation office managers had some standing in the community to take usually met with the business communities. The various luncheons that they had where policy for the town were determinants are on and after one of those meetings that was the first meeting that he attended he was approached by the mayor of a town. I wasn't told what town this was but it was somewhere in downstate Illinois. I couldn't and he was told We welcome you here during
the day but we don't. We don't want your kind after sundown and when we went back and told the story to the head of the division who passed the word on to Governor Stratton Stratton said I'm not going to do anything about it. That's where it stood. There you go. Thanks for the story. OK. Well I'm sorry to cut the caller off we just have about maybe six minutes left and a couple people been waiting a while want to include as many people as we possibly can before we're in a town time for in a town hall. There's a 40 and certainly are a lot of stories just by raising the subject aren't there. Yeah so we're going next to a listener on line number two. Good morning. Hello. The caller there. Yes I'm right here. I wanted to know if in your research how this affects law enforcement when law enforcement recruits from these.
And second how does this affect jury pool. And does this explain why our prison population and jail populations are predominantly African-American. And is it subject to maybe overrule a case or would you recommend you know defendant black defendants having people from the town be on the jury. Good question let me let me just point out to any notes if I willed in reply. The most famous trial in the United States in the last several years was of course the O.J. trial in California which you may remember was moved by the prosecutor. The prosecution from Los Angeles where the crime committed was committed to Simi Valley Simi Valley was a sundown suburb of Los Angeles. And is was when they had the trial at least 98 percent non-black overwhelmingly white. Excuse me that's not the O.J. trial the O.J. trial is quite different that's why I was making is the Rodney King trial
and it relates to why there was a. Innocent and not the Rodney King trial but the trial of the policeman who beat him for so very long and the trial was in Simi Valley and it was not considered legitimate by the black community and I think they have a point it was not a jury of King's peers or of Los Angeles cross-section it was of value. Almost all white jury from a town from a former sundown suburb. The other thing I was going to say you asked about police officers even worse as correctional officers. The United States has a policy it seems and certainly Illinois has this policy of locating prisons in sundown towns. And we do this I think because for one thing sundown town Representatives stay in even Congress and certainly stay in state legislatures for a long time. And so they have some clout and also some of the sundown towns are backward in other ways so they don't have much economic development so they seek a prison for economic reasons. So we see that. Then Correctional Center is invent Delia the correctional center is in Dwight. These are both confirmed sundown towns and this is true across the United
States. So when white folks excuse me when black visitors family members and so on go to another one is in Pinckney Ville Another one is nirvana. All of these are sundown towns. It's a heck of a thing it's like cruel and unusual punishment because it's very difficult for your family to visit they feel quite worried about it they want to get out of town fast. I think this is not appropriate. I think we should make a policy of not rewarding sundown towns with governmental laws yes. Very interesting. We have another caller waiting patiently on line number three Listen clue them. Good morning unfocussed 580. Hi thanks for taking my call. I I am a general Cherokee member from Oklahoma. And growing up my grandpa used to take me across the line into Arkansas and I'm heard you mention northwest Arkansas earlier. Yes. And the town that we would go into is called the Siloam Springs. Yes. And walking down the street downtown I remember as a little kid in the 70s there were signs on some of the windows on some of the
windows that would say you know Negras or Indian allowed. And I remember as a kid my grandpa saying you know once you get old enough Hopefully that'll change. And I was wondering do you include you know some of the sundown towns with the native populations that may be close to them. Yes I do. In Nevada there were two towns that sounded a whistle at 6pm to tell Native Americans to be out of town. Villa Grove incidentally near here sounded a whistle a siren at 6:00 p.m. until 1999 to tell African-Americans to be out of town. And so particularly in the west there were towns that were entirely sundown towns. The some of the Native Americans there were also a bunch of them that had that policy. The Chinese Americans. Thank you.
Well in fact you'll know it was a sundown state when it came to Native Americans I believe for some time. Native Americans I don't think so. You know it did pass a law in the 1840s even earlier confirmed it need hundred forty that blacks could not move in and sixteenths did this in all maybe even more but six that I know of. Illinois did not really enforce that law very well though the only state that really enforced it was Oregon and Oregon ended up with a whole bunch of sundown towns as a result. But I did want to get this story in a nutshell let me tell it like you know and then we have time for another caller. It's hard to do this research sometimes because people don't want to tell you stuff. And the funniest example of somebody who didn't want to tell me something in my whole research came from Villa Grove. When I first heard that villa Grove had this whistle that sounded at 6pm to tell blacks to be out of town I thought it was apocryphal. I figured out well it probably had a whistle and it probably was a sundown town but the idea that the two were connected. So I thought it was probably a shift change at a factory or some other kind of 6:00 p.m. whistle but it turned out to be true. And I verified it by doing
interview after interview in Villa grove on a on a Monday several years ago. And my very last interview was at the weekly newspaper and I talked with the editor and I and and I want to just read you the transcript I said Hello I'm Jim Lowe and I grew up over in Decatur and now I'm doing research on all white towns that are all white on purpose including this one and I pointed to the ground. I didn't usually say things like that I usually try to get them to tell me but in this case I had done ten former interviews until a girl I knew had it nailed it was 4:30 p.m. I needed to go back to Champaign Urbana the editor nodded. He agreed and I said quote I understand you have used to have until recently a whistle on your water tower that went off every evening at 6 pm. Yes he agreed. Tell me the story about that whistle I asked. I don't know any story about that whistle replied. No I actually didn't believe this I figured the editor must know the story seven other people had confirmed it to me but what am I going to shake him and say you do too. So I as I said I was done I said OK and I started to make my farewell at
this point as I turned to leave his secretary. From over at the desk to the side said. You mean the story that that was the signal for blacks to be out of town. And I nodded and I said yes that story and she said I never heard that story. Isn't that interesting. I never heard the story that she had just told me. Well that and many other stories are to be found in the book sundown towns the hidden dimension of racism in America. The author is James Lowe and last name. L o e w e n. If you have stories to share we have his email address here you can write to me if you didn't write it down we're going to have to stop because we're out of time. Thanks so much General for being has been my pleasure thanks to the callers.
- Focus 580
- Producing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
- AAPB ID
- With James W. Loewen (Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Vermont)
- Broadcast Date
- Talk Show
- Civil Rights; race-ethnicity; Racism; Race/Ethnicity; community; Illinois; african-american; Law
- Media type
Guest: Loewen, James W.
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-ada6969a597 (unknown)
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-149b4116132 (unknown)
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- Chicago: “Focus 580; Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America,” 2005-09-20, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-8s4jm23s1c.
- MLA: “Focus 580; Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America.” 2005-09-20. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-8s4jm23s1c>.
- APA: Focus 580; Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-8s4jm23s1c