Sunday, August 19, 2007

Do You Live in a Sundown Town?

I'm still working my way through James Loewen's book about Sundown Towns (he's talking about how and why the information about a town's status as a sundown town was often later concealed). Fascinating stuff.

You can visit his web site for a list of American sundown towns, both suspected and confirmed, along with some info about their history. Just click on your state in the map and see if any of the towns on the list look familiar.

It's hard to knw if all his information is super accurate. He lists Brookline, where I live now, as"probably not" and I'd say it's definitely not a current sundown down (not that we don't have racial problems). And I'm not certain that it ever was, though that could just be denial--I'll have to look in the history books. After what I've been reading, I guess it won't surprise me. The Colorado list is much too short. Still, the site is worth a look.

Another town where I've lived that is or was a sundown towns is Mahomet, IL It saddens me to think of Mahomet was sundown, but I suppose it shouldn't completely surprise me. When we lived in Champaign, we heard rumors that Arcola still is (and it shows up on Loewen's list as probable.)


angelique said...

Hi, Patrick. I grew up in Arcola and wrote a book about its history. I had always heard the rumor too, but found no "official" evidence of it. There were articles in the paper that made it clear that blacks could not rent lodging, not even fairly famous "players" who performed at the Opera House. They usually left town on the last train out the evening of their performance. That may have contributed to the rumors. One newspaper article from the early 1900s accused Tuscoleans of being "n***** lovers" because they allowed blacks to stay overnight in town, which is evidence to me of the practice of Arcoleans. Imagine printing such in the newspaper! You had to be pretty sure that you had wide support. There are people still alive in Arcola who remember when black broomcorn johnnies came to work in town and what trouble that caused for farmers who hired them. One woman remembers being harrassed because her mother cooked for the hands her father hired. Anyway, there is no reason not to believe that Arcola was quite racist.

patrick said...

Thanks for commenting, Angelique. You should definitely check out Jim Loewen's web site--he'd be interested to hear from you. In the book, he mentions Arcola a number of times. He also talks about running into the same thing that you did, that it's often hard to find the "official" record of sundown policies, since they were usually unwritten codes, enforced by police or even average citizens. This makes it necessary to rely a lot on oral history, as you've done.