Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

A Presentation by Dr. James W. Loewen, Thursday, Sept 28, 2006, O’Connor Auditorium

6:00 pm – Reception (light refreshments)
7:00pm – Presentation and Discussion
Presented by the District of Columbia Sociological Society
Supported by the Washington Area Women’s Foundation and sponsored by the Trinity Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa

sundown.gifJames (Jim) W. Loewen is an author, historian, and professor of sociology. He attended Carleton College and has a PhD in sociology from Harvard University. For 20 years, Loewen taught race relations at the University of Vermont. Prior to that, he taught at Mississippi ‘s Tougaloo College, which was attended primarily by African Americans. Loewen co-authored an American history textbook Mississippi: Conflict and Change that won the Lillian Smith Award for Best Southern Nonfiction, but was not approved for use in the Mississippi school system. This lead to the lawsuit Loewen v. Turnispeed .

Jim Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American history, only to find an embarrassing blend of bland optimism, blind nationalism, and plain misinformation, weighing in at an average of 888 pages and almost five pounds. He is a best selling author who wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.

When Dr. Loewen began his research on Sundown Towns , he expected to find about 10 “sundown towns” in Illinois (his home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, he found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States. Sundown Towns is the first book ever written on the topic.

Dr. Loewen’s discovered that in many states most communities were “sundown towns” that kept out blacks (and sometimes other groups) for decades. (Some still do.) From Maine to California, thousands of communities kept out African Americans (or sometimes Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.) by force, law, or custom. Some towns are still white on purpose. Their chilling stories have been joined more recently by the many elite (and some not so elite) suburbs like Grosse Pointe, MI or Edina, MN that have excluded nonwhites by “kinder gentler means.”