Racism in America: What were the “sunset” cities and why are they part of the stark legacy of racial discrimination

They were very surprised that a black person lived there,” he tells BBC Mundo.

She had come with her family from Orlando, Florida, to Glendale, a city in the north of Los Angeles, attracted by a job that came to her husband.

Harris-Logins noted that the place had a good school district for its three children and that ended up convincing them to move in 2008.

In many cases the towns or cities admitted black workers, but did not allow them to reside there, so they had to leave at dusk.

Last September, Glendale passed a resolution officially apologizing for its racist past, an action taken by about a dozen cities and towns across the United States.

“That we are only left with 15,000 locations more with a similar past , ” says sociologist James W. Loewen, who has extensively researched the issue and in 2005 published the book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism ( “Cities sunset: a hidden dimension of American racism “).

What exactly happened in these places and what legacy have they left?

“Don’t let the sun go down on you”
The “evening” towns arose primarily in the northern United States between 1890 and 1940 , Loewen says, although he cautions that some continued to appear until the 1960s.

“A lot of people think America started its history in a fantastic way and then it just kept getting better, but that’s not true. Between 1890 and 1940 we gradually became more and more racist, ” he explains.

“The US has never been a white country and it is a story that has not been told for a long time”
In the south it was less common, despite the presence of a large black population.

Groton, a town in Massachusetts, laid out a stone with the carved message of “All are welcome” as a way to acknowledge its past of racism and exclusion.
IMAGE SOURCE, GETTY IMAGES
Caption,
Groton, a town in Massachusetts, laid out a stone with the carved message of “Everyone is welcome” as a way to reconcile with his past of racism and exclusion.

“Southern whites thought it was a ridiculous idea because they employed blacks for housework,” he says.

Frequently and as documented by Loewen, the “sunset” localities allowed one black family to live there while driving out the rest or refusing to let them reside in the neighborhoods.

The sociologist cites as an example the town of Pana, in Illinois (central-western part of the country) that on its highway posted ” terrible signs that said something like ‘[offensive word], don’t let the sun fall on Pana'”, in reference to black visitors.

However, Loewen documented that according to census figures from 1910 to 1920, about six African-Americans were listed as residents of the area.

The explanation is one that is repeated in similar locations: only the barber and his family were allowed to live , explains the academic.

“Informal methods of excluding black people and other people of color in Glendale included intimidation and violence. Harassment of black people moving to or visiting Glendale is well documented, with hate crimes reported in newspapers from the 1900s to 1990. Additionally, non-white people were prohibited from being interred in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, until they were 60. ”

-Glendale City Council Report, September 2020.

Glendale’s main cemetery prohibited blacks from being buried until the 1960s.

When Loewen began documenting the history of these towns and cities more than two decades ago, she figured she would only find a dozen of these in her home state of Illinois. As of today, it has a count of 506 (70% of the towns in the state).

One of the most well-known places in Illinois for its history of racism is Anna , with a population of less than 5,000, of which 96% are white.

“I found references to black people not being allowed to live there in newspaper articles since 1903,” journalist Logan Jaffe wrote in a Pro Publica article last year.

Jaffe spent two years accumulating oral memory and documentation on Anna’s story and found, for example, an excerpt from a 1903 journal article that read: “How fortunate we are to have so few ‘from the darkest Africa’ among us. U.S”.

Six years later, a black man would be lynched without the right to trial less than 72 hours after he was accused of having killed a young woman from the town, the report describes.

A spectacle for the masses: the brutal and almost forgotten “era of lynching” of blacks in the United States
The mechanisms
The most common method under which took place these exclusions, is what Loewen described as driving while black (driving while black) . It meant that the police detained black drivers who were visiting or residing in the town.

“They harassed the driver, his adolescent son, held people and made them get out of the car to do evil things to them,” he describes.

A photo taken in the state of Florida in 1941, during the era of racial segregation in the United States.

But there were also riots driven by white residents, explains the sociologist.

“Many small towns expelled the black population and burned their houses or took them over.”

What happened in the hidden “Black Wall Street” massacre, one of the worst racist crimes in US history?
Another mechanism that was used especially in the suburbs was steering , under which real estate agents diverted buyers away from certain neighborhoods because of their race .

What is the “white drain” and how did it lead to the segregation of the cities of the United States
Ultimately, Loewen adds, the places built reputations for “not being black-friendly” that were perpetuated.

In addition to black communities, there is documentation of exclusion of Chinese-Americans in the 1870s and 1880s, as well as Jews in coastal locations and Native Americans in some parts of the west of the country, as well as Mexicans, according to the researcher.

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