Sociologist James Loewen has made a career of instructing Americans about the real racial history of the country. He continues to educate people about his findings laid out in Sundown Towns:
By not parrying the South’s attempts to further racism, the North placated the South. In fact, the South began building memorials because, in philosophy, they did win the Civil War. One reason northern states withdrew their efforts was the fact that they were already ridden with Sundown towns, especially in the Midwest. As stated before, Sundown towns gained their reputation from attempting to drive out their black population by dark.
“More than half of towns in the Midwest were Sundown towns,” Loewen said.
In fact, the reputation of former Dearborn mayor Orville L. Hubbard, whose statue stands in front of City Hall, comes from his dedication to maintaining a Sundown Town in Dearborn.
Remnants of Sundown Towns in Detroit are observable today in former residences such as the Orsel McGhee household located at 4626 Seebaldt Ave. The Orsel Mc-Ghees were an African-America family that attempted to moved into a segregated, white neighborhood of Detroit in 1944 but were forced to move after a lawsuit was brought against them.
Another case was the Ossian Sweet case, where Sweet, a black doctor, attempted to defend his home against a white mob that sought to drive him out of a white segregated community on Sept. 9, 1925. A 1985 Dearborn ordinance, passed by an overwhelming white majority vote, made city parks off-limits to non-residents, a measure created to prevent black would-be homeowners from moving in. Loewen also spoke about Anna, Ill., circa 1909. White residents, with the help of local government officials, began to force out blacks and Anna became an acronym for “Ain’t no N Allowed.”
One fairly recent, yet baffling, example that Loewen presented was the case of Villa Grove, Ill. Until 1999, Villa Grove sounded a siren every day at 6 p.m. to warn blacks to leave the city. Similar problems were prevalent in the 1970s despite the Supreme Court’s “Shelley v. Kraemer” ruling stating that state courts could not enforce a restrictive covenant. In this context, a restrictive covenant is a clause in a deed that limits to whom a property can be leased or sold.
Not too many communities are interested in sharing these parts of their history. Loewen’s findings are all the more shocking when he makes clear that this was common across northern communities, places that many Americans learn and think were more open to blacks than Southern communities.
Even though sundown towns are no longer with us, sociologists argue these more formal rules have been replaced by more informal means of keeping minorities and lower class residents out of suburbs. One common technique is exclusionary zoning, a practice where communities only allow larger and more expensive homes to be built. Without much affordable housing, employees in lower income jobs, ranging from municipal workers to retail and service jobs, often cannot live near their suburban jobs and then must also maintain a car, an expensive proposition in itself.
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