For more than 80 years, Naperville was a sundown town. After working in a household, farm or factory during the day, people of color had to be gone from Naperville by sundown…
A historical look at how diversity in the city and five other U.S. towns grew despite decades historic discriminatory practices and segregation is featured in a free online exhibit spearheaded by Naper Settlement and the Historical Society of Naperville.
“Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States,” found at UnvarnishedHistory.org, was developed through a $750,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services Museum Leadership grant. The Naperville historical museum and five other museums and cultural organizations collaborated from 2017 to 2022 to research and present their community’s history of exclusion…
“It is our hope that this project will act as a model and inspire other communities to research, share and reflect upon their own history. It is through this process that we are able to engage with the totality of history to better understand today and guide our decision-making for the future,” she said.
In doing research on Naperville and two other nearby suburbs, I had uncovered some of what is detailed in this exhibit. However, the local histories of the community rarely addressed any of this. Instead, they focused on the positive moments for white residents, typically connected to growth, progress, and notable members of the community.
Such an exhibit suggests a willingness for Naperville and other communities to better grapple with pasts built on privileging some and keeping others out. The history of many American suburbs include exclusion by race, ethnicity, and social class. This could happen through explicit regulations and ordinances, through regular practices, or through policies and actions not explicitly about race, ethnicity, or class but with clear outcomes for different groups.
As noted in the last paragraph above, hopefully these efforts do not end with past history but also help communities consider current and future patterns. For example, decisions about development – like what kind of housing is approved – influence who can live in a community.