The name comes from signs at the edge of town warning blacks to leave by sundown. One sign in Hawthorne, California in the 1930s said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you in Hawthorne.” Blacks were allowed in town during the day to work but had to leave before nightfall.
Most sundown towns were not in the South, like you might think, but in the North and Midwest. The South kept the races separate and unequal with Jim Crow laws. In the North and Midwest many towns simply drove blacks out, especially in the 1890s, and kept them out. Blacks lost their land and houses and sometimes their lives.
It was not just blacks who were affected by this sort of thing. To a lesser degree so were Jews, Chinese, Mexicans and Native Americans, sometimes even Catholics. Idaho, for example, was once a third Chinese. That was before the whites drove them out.
These towns were not just here and there in lost little corners of the country. They were everywhere. President George W. Bush grew up in one. So did Emily Post, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who gave us Tarzan), Joe McCarthy (who drove out Communists) and Dale Carnegie.
Levittown on Long Island in New York state was one. It became the model for white suburbia – not just in its look-alike houses, but also in its Wonder Bread whiteness. No blacks lived there. Not because blacks could not afford it, but because whites were not allowed to sell their houses to them!
William Levitt, himself a Jew, said, “If we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy.”
Some other notable sundown towns: Darien, Connecticut, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Tarzana, California and Cicero, Illinois.
A sundown town might have one or two black families, but no more were allowed to move in.
Whenever I return to America from overseas I know I am back home because I see black people again. Blacks are part of what America is. Even in Alaska.
So when a town has no blacks or just one or two families, it is unnatural. It means blacks are being kept out somehow.
But now there are other ways to keep a place nearly all white, like redlining. So the same thing still goes on today but by different means.
The proof of this is just how white the white suburbs are. Almost 90% of suburban whites live in places that are less than 1% black! Whites see nothing wrong with that – in a country where 9% of the middle class is black!
White suburbia has taken the place of the old sundown towns.