Sundown Towns

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism
by James W. Loewen

I threw in the towel and bailed on reading this book in depth, which I’ve resolved not to feel bad about. I did skim a lot of it though. I’m a HUGE fan of sociologist Loewen’s books, and this one is good, but I wasn’t as riveted to the material as I was when reading Lies my Teacher Told Me or Lies Across America.

Loewen likes to write history books about subjects that Americans prefer to gloss over, forget or try to put into the past without resolving, and this book certainly fits that theme. Sundown Towns were thousands of small rural towns, usually in the north and midwest, that did not allow black residents, and even posted signs warning blacks to “Not the the sun go down on them” in that town. This began after the civil war during reconstruction, and continued in an overt fashion until at least the sixties, with the fallout continuing on until the present day. Residents routinely created the all-white towns by driving out blacks through lynchings or mob violence, and enforced the sundown rules informally by intimidation or formally by town ordinances.

Part of what made me resist reading the book is that it’s similar in subject matter to the Indiana-themed book Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America, which I read and reviewed for IndyScribe. Our Town covers a particular rural Indiana town and its issues with race, while Sundown Towns covers a lot of ground.

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