there were thousands of sundown towns
and suburbs in the United States,
I have not been able to confirm them
all. I hope this website helps to
nurture a genre of "sundown studies,"
because much remains to be investigated. The
sheer extent of the problem needs
study. Did a given town or county
develop the policy, formally or informally,
of keeping out African Americans or
other groups? That's where the map of Sundown Towns in the United States comes in. In addition,
several theoretical questions need
more research. Here are some examples
What is the moment-by-moment process
by which a town went sundown? Social
psychologists have long studied crowd
psychology and how a crowd becomes
a mob. As towns decided to drive out
all their African Americans, and sometimes
as they decided not to, whites went
through a process of testing the norms.
How did the white population realize
it had a consensus to evict or prohibit
African Americans (or others)? Was
there dissent? What did those who
opposed the move do? What did African
Americans or other minorities themselves
Why did some towns go sundown and
others not? Do additional examples
bear out my contention that towns
and counties in the North that supported
Democratic candidates in the late
1850s were more likely to go sundown
after 1890? Which ethnic groups were
most racist? Which least? Why? Is
my inference correct, that mono-ethnic
towns were more likely than multiethnic
towns to keep out African Americans?
• What role did different social
classes play in prompting a community
to expel or keep out African Americans?
Unions? Corporations? Were women a
force for tolerance, compared to men?
Or did they desire to "protect"
the home by keeping the community
exclusive? Or did gender make little
The opposite of sundown towns also
merits study: what differentiates
communities that refused to go all-white?
In some parts of the United States,
towns that allowed African Americans
to live in them were much rarer than
sundown towns. This was the case in
the Ozarks, the Cumberlands, much
of the Midwest, and most suburban
rings. What explains the exceptions,
the biracial towns in these areas?
More confirmation is needed as to
their politics, ideology, ethnic makeup,
and social structural characteristics
like occupations. Case studies of
the moment-by-moment process by which
towns refused to go all-white, though
hard to do (because no news was made,
in a way), are just as important as
studies of the sundown process. What
explains Du Quoin, for instance, a
biracial town in Southern Illinois
surrounded by sundown towns in every
direction? Tiny Sigel in Central Illinois,
population about 350, nestled between
the sundown towns of Neoga and Effingham,
has had no African American residents
for decades, but there, according
to an African American man who spent
many years in the area, African Americans
"were allowed to go to taverns
and have fun and 'cut up' just like
anyone else." Why did Sigel treat
blacks humanely, even at night, when
African Americans could not safely
walk the streets of Neoga and Effingham
even during the day? Then there is
Pasco, located between Kennewick and
Richland in southeastern Washington.
Richland was the town the federal
government built to house workers
at the Hanford atomic plant, and it
limited residence to whites only.
According to Ernie de la Bretonne,
who has lived in the Tri-Cites since
1944, "There was a sign on the
Kennewick side of the Green Bridge
into Kennewick from Pasco that said:
'N-----s, don't let the sun set on
your head.'" African Americans
could live safely only in Pasco. So
what explains Pasco? [Ruby B. Goodwin,
It's Good To Be Black (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 1953); Michelle Tate,
manuscript, 10/2002; Eric Wetterling,
"An interview with Ernie de la
Bretonne," 5/4/1997, "The
Paired comparisons of sundown and
biracial or multiracial towns might
reveal not only about what caused
towns to go sundown, but also what
resulted from that historical decision.
Pana and Danville were both mining
towns in Central Illinois, for example.
In Pana, white miners defeated black
strikebreakers in 1898, driving all
African Americans out of town. [Whites
exempted one family, as we have noted.]
Pana remained sundown for decades,
perhaps to this day. In Danville,
white miners lost their strike in
1886-87; thereafter, they had to work
alongside black strikebreakers. According
to historian Ronald Lewis, the African
Americans were accepted reasonably
well; I think they joined the union.
While Danville has had racial problems,
its race relations are far better
than Pana's. Danville renamed Main
Street "Martin Luther King Drive,"
built a small "Martin Luther
King Park" near its downtown,
and commissioned a bust of King for
it; Pana would never consider such
gestures. What are the implications
for white young people in the two
towns? [Ronald L. Lewis, Black Coal
Miners in America (Lexington: UP of
KY, 1987), 87.]
What are the implications of sundown policies for economic growth? In 1900, Pana had 5,530 residents, compared to 16,354 in Danville. By 1990, Danville's population had doubled to 33,828, while Pana remained stuck at 5,796. Were Pana's sundown policies, or the mindset behind them, partly responsible for its stagnation? [Certainly there were other factors. Danville is a county seat; Pana is not. Danville is now on an interstate highway; Pana is not. But race relations has also played a role. The Quaker Oats Company "conditioned the location of a plant in Danville" on Danville's enacting an open-housing ordinance, according to Michael Danielson (The Politics of Exclusion, NY: Columbia UP, 1976), 146). Presumably Quaker Oats and companies like it would not consider Pana, and Pana probably would not consider passing such an ordinance, unless it were merely pro forma.] On the other hand, comparing other pairs, like Salem (sundown) to Centralia (not sundown), might lead to different conclusions, because Centralia has not outstripped Salem. Comparisons like these could be drawn usefully all across the United States. Portfolio #32, for example, shows 34 small towns in Indiana. In 1970, all of them may have been sundown towns, but by 2000, eight of these now 33 [Unincorporated Smith Valley had disappeared from the census in the interim.] towns had two or more black households. Those eight averaged 1,412 people in 1970, just 2% more than the 1,385 average for the other 26 towns. By 2000, the differences were substantial: the towns with blacks averaged 4,258 in total population, more than twice the average (2,064) of the towns that still had just one black household or none at all. [Of course, there is a chicken-and-egg problem: the growing towns may have attracted African Americans while the stagnating towns did not, or keeping blacks out may be an element and cause of stagnation, or both. Careful study might reveal when each town let in African Americans and when it grew, shedding light on this question.]
• Another possible causal link between race and economics runs in the opposite direction: all-white towns, especially in suburbia and in vacation and retirement areas, can draw more affluent residents. Chronologically careful investigations of this relationship would be time well spent.
Did many towns in an area go sundown
at once? Was a sort of contagion involved?
"Keeping up with the Joneses?"
Portfolio #13 tells of an "Anti-Negro
Crusade" along the Ohio River
in Indiana in 1901, apparently leading
to many sundown towns there. We need
to know much more about this and other
infectious anti-black movements, such
as "Give 'em Springfield"
after the 1908 attempt to drive all
African Americans out of Springfield,
Illinois. Investigating contagion
requires dating when each town or
county drove out its black population,
looking for a pattern, then seeing
if sources exist to help establish
links between nearby expulsions.
Similarly, was there a geographic
and chronological pattern in the passing
Why do white supremacists locate in
sundown towns? Are their expectations
of a supportive environment met?
What prompted sundown towns to relent?
How did a given town open to African
Americans (or others) successfully?
If social scientists or historians
tell how various sundown towns desegregated,
that might provide a blueprint of
do's and don't's for other towns that
still exclude. [John Gehm, Bringing
it Home (Chicago: Chicago Review P,
1984), provides the only account I
know of the desegregation of an independent
sundown town. Several accounts describe
the desegregation of sundown suburbs,
including Oak Park.]
What role (if any) did students play?
Did they really cause Appleton, Wisconsin,
for example, to accept African American
residents? In turn, what or who prompted
Appleton to adopt the ABC Program,
admitting black students to Appleton's
high schools? Has Darien, Connecticut,
been "softened" by its ABC
students? Darien does have 13 households
with at least one black householder
as of the 2000 census, so it may have
cracked as a sundown town. [In 1998,
however, Darien residents still confirmed
the complete absence of black householders
in most neighborhoods of their town.]
Can you confirm (or disconfirm) the
regional differences in sundown towns:
that the Deep South has few, the Far
West had the most diverse collection
(against Native, Mexican, and Chinese
Americans, as well as Jewish and African
Americans), that the Far West and
the suburban South have gotten past
sundown policies more than other regions,
etc. How are sundown towns different
in the Far West, where Mexican or
Chinese Americans were often the most
numerous minorities, compared to the
Midwest or Northeast?
What difference do sundown towns make
today to the children who live in
them? Are graduates of Danville High
School, for example, more likely to
attend multiracial colleges like the
University of Illinois, compared to
graduates of Pana High School? Do
Pana students score higher on prejudice
These last questions suggest other
present-oriented issues to investigate:
What about biracial children or adopted
black children in (otherwise) sundown
towns. How do they identify, racially?
How are they seen by their classmates?
Do they do well in high school? Are
they more likely than their classmates
to leave town after graduation? Was
my impression correct that such children
are fairly common products of the
rebellion of young white women against
sundown town bigotry?
What are the effects of gated communities
on their residents? On children's
attitudes? On topics like social class?
Gated communities may impact on child
culture itself: does gating curtail
playing with other children? Is adult
facilitation required for kids to
get together (except on-line)? Or
have children found ways around the
fences and walls designed to signify
status and keep out intruders?
We also need more research on the
continuing white flight from already
heavily white cities like Champaign/Urbana,
Illinois, and Joplin, Missouri, to
sundown towns and exurbs. What are
the reasons whites give? Is it simply
racism? A feeling of the cities being
out of control? [More than 80% white,
and surrounded by all-white communities,
Champaign/Urbana and Joplin can never
go black; property values are not
threatened; so this white flight may
truly be motivated by sheer racism.
If you work on any of these topics about sundown towns please email me.