Sundown towns are cities or towns that are all-white on purpose. They use informal and formal means to keep African Americans or other people of color out of the city.
The name derives from the posted and verbal warnings issued to Blacks that although they might be allowed to work or travel in a community during the daytime, they must leave by sundown or risk threats, injury, and maybe even death.
African Americans were not the only minority group to be prohibited in sundown towns, it affected Jews, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and others.
Sundown towns didn’t exist before the Civil War, but precedents existed for the exclusion of free African Americans. Predominantly existing between 1890 and 1968, thousands of towns across the US drove out their black populations or took steps to forbid African Americans from living in them.
As early as 1843, Arkansas denied free African Americans entry into the state and in 1859, Arkansas required such persons to leave the state by January 1, 1860 or be sold in to slavery.
White mobs would actively attack black prisoners, dragging them from their prison cells. These actions would cause the black community to flee in fear of their own lives, often leaving their belongings behind.
Or the white mobs would actively go through the black neighborhoods, tie men to trees and whip them, burn several homes, and warn all African Americans to leave that night.
In 1930, the lynching of 2 black teens by a white mob in Marion, Indiana resulted in the town’s 200 black residents moving away never to return.
Most sundown towns exist from the Mid-West to the West in many predominantly white communities. Even California had sundown towns, Glendale being one until as late as the 1990s.
A city that is less than 2% African American may indicate that there may have been a history of sundown town laws.
Black motorists have to be extra cautious when traveling long distances. Some towns and cities may not be very welcoming to them on their travels and they may find some businesses and hotels won’t service them. Even to this day.
Can you imagine being in a town and fearing for your life? You have to leave town before the sunsets or you’re no longer safe and welcome there. Most women today can relate to this sentiment. Not every city is safe for all Americans and that’s a terrifying thought.