Racial Healing Network Members Can Work on Ameliorating Sundown Towns

By. James W. Loewen

Sundown towns are communities that for decades were all white on purpose. The term is not used throughout the nation, but with or without the term, many towns, even whole counties, formally or informally kept out African Americans, especially in the North. Some still do.

Since about 1990, many communities have given up the practice. Some remain inhospitable to African American residents, however, and still show no or almost no black families. Other towns have allowed a few black families to move in, but all-white police forces still stop drivers, especially male teenagers, for "DWB," teaching staffs still include no African Americans, and some white residents still feel empowered to be actively hostile. We call these problems "second-generation sundown town issues."

Still other former sundown towns have moved beyond these problems. Greenbelt, Maryland, for example, created by the FDR administration in the 1930s as a utopian (and of course sundown) community, is now 48% black. Oak Park, Illinois, which cut off water and sewage to the first black family to move in, has become famously integrated and named a school for the husband of that first family.

Other sundown towns show no or almost no black families, have never apologized for their sundown pasts, and still seem hostile to African Americans.