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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism Paperback – October 3, 2006

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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism + Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. According to bestselling sociologist Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me), "something significant has been left out of the broad history of race in America as it is usually taught," namely the establishment between 1890 and 1968 of thousands of "sundown towns" that systematically excluded African-Americans from living within their borders. Located mostly outside the traditional South, these towns employed legal formalities, race riots, policemen, bricks, fires and guns to produce homogeneously Caucasian communities—and some of them continue such unsavory practices to this day. Loewen's eye-opening history traces the sundown town's development and delineates the extent to which state governments and the federal government, "openly favor[ed] white supremacy" from the 1930s through the 1960s, "helped to create and maintain all-white communities" through their lending and insuring policies. "While African Americans never lost the right to vote in the North... they did lose the right to live in town after town, county after county," Loewen points out. The expulsion forced African-Americans into urban ghettoes and continues to have ramifications on the lives of whites, blacks and the social system at large. Admirably thorough and extensively footnoted, Loewen's investigation may put off some general readers with its density and statistical detail, but the stories he recounts form a compelling corrective to the "textbook archetype of interrupted progress." As the first comprehensive history of sundown towns ever written, this book is sure to become a landmark in several fields and a sure bet among Loewen's many fans. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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*Starred Review* In the long and troubled history of race relations in the U.S., one fairly hidden and unstudied practice has been the blatant exclusion of racial minorities in towns and suburbs through violence, laws, and tradition. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995), explores the history of places where blacks were warned, "Don't let the sun go down on you in this town." He details the creation and maintenance of sundown towns in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the early part of the twentieth century, with practices that continue to this day. In an alarmingly large number of towns, virtually no minorities--other than those imprisoned or otherwise institutionalized--live there. Starting in central Illinois, where he grew up, Loewen traveled throughout the U.S. And documented practices of racial exclusivity and talked to town residents about the long-held customs, some beginning with the violent expulsion of black residents. Across the U.S., in small towns and wealthy suburbs, Loewen notes that where there are no black residents, it is likely the result of whites-only laws or practices. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743294483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743294485
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James W. Loewen is the bestselling author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America. He is a regular contributor to the History Channel's History magazine and is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont. He resides in Washington, D.C.

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#56 in Books > History
#56 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 154 people found the following review helpful By J. K. Kelley on December 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
So many American historians tell us what we want to hear. Prof. Loewen tells us what we very much *need* to hear. A sundown town, good reader, is a town that will allow a given race to pass through provided it gets out by sunset. _Sundown Towns_ is the story of how much of small-town America came to be all-white, or so nearly all-white as to make mock of diversity.

Growing up a white Westerner in mostly white towns, I always had the question about race relations: "Why the hell would such a high percentage of black people choose to live in nasty big cities? Why don't they move here? I won't hurt 'em. Their kids would get better educations and they'd do fine." It sounds so easy. Did any of you ever wonder that?

As Prof. Loewen documents with the greatest of care, after the Civil War that's what happened. And then, town by town, said black people were driven out and told never to return. The census figures combined with eyewitness accounts will admit of no other conclusion. Black people ended up concentrated in the only areas that were relatively safe to be black in. The American landscape was an immense minefield for them after 1890: can't stop here for gas, can't even pass through here, can't spend the night here. At some point you just go to Detroit, or wherever, and try and make do.

I live in Kennewick, Washington, which along with Richland (its sister city) was a sundown town until at least the mid-1960s. Every approach I make to delve into the topic is met with cold silence and deep disapproval. People don't return my phone calls, and I see fear in people's eyes. It is obvious that what I am seeing is a shame reaction, the hope that the last witnesses will die off before anyone records the truth.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By L.E. Page on December 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wow! This book does a great job of explaining how our villages and towns became so segregated. And until reading it I hadn't really realized how segregated we are.

Loewen starts the book by recapping how our country changed after the Civil War. I had heard of the migration north, but I didn't know that many of the newly-freed slaves actually had their own farms in the midwest. Racism slowly drove them off these farms and into groups in larger cities.

Loewen also explains how whites then responded by moving to suburbs and instituting measures to keep their new communities white. Some 80% of the Chicago suburbs had some type of codes that restricted certain races from settling there.

Loewen also made it clear that the sundown town practice was mainly a northern one. He did a lot of investigation of Illinois towns and found quite a few towns that had taken measures to prevent African Americans from settling or buying property within the town. He did also include examples of the practice existing on the East Coast to restrict Jewish people from WASP areas and on the West Coast to restrict Chinese or Asian immigrants from living outside their neighborhoods.

This book tells a fascinating story of our country and how segregation took hold. Read it!
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67 of 79 people found the following review helpful By John Brown on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author did an outstanding job in chronicling the attitudes of the various towns across America, and why they are the way they are. Many of these attitudes still exist, and what surprised me was that a town within minutes from where I live, was mentioned, as a Sundown Town. The surprise came not about the town, but that the author had not missed it in his review of Sundown Towns in America. This book is a good read for all Americans, and reflects that a lot of work still needs to be accomplished if it is to truly be the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Jenkins on May 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Sundown Towns" examines an underappreciated aspect of segregation and racism in the United States. The book provides a useful history of how the racial distribution of towns changed from the Civil War era to the present and how various measures were used to keep towns White or "Caucasian" (a category that was used to exclude a wide variety of peoples). I've lived in or near several towns given prominence in the book and have had family or friends who lived near other places. The book helped answer questions I had living in South Central Indiana in the '80s, where I was struck by the number or "all white" towns and the odd history of the sizable college town where I lived (Bloomington had no non-student African-American community "of record" until large industrial employers like GE came in the 1950s, an odd circumstance for a sizable town, with important commercial and government functions, as well as a major university). The book is particularly damning in its attention to racial segregation and repression in the North and West, although it is rather lacking in attention to the complexity of living arrangements in the South.

The author relies on local historical sources, archives, and oral histories. The oral histories seem to be the most inconsistent, which is recognized, but not fully appreciated. The variation in forces that led to the creation of sundown towns is appreciated but under analyzed. The author tends to jump from his main topic to broader considerations of segregation and this waters down some of the work. There are degrees to which towns really fit the "sundown" definition. Parma, Ohio had a small numbers of Black residents in the 1960s and would not fit in the same class as Cicero or Berwyn.
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