NEW RESEARCH DOCUMENTS THE PERSISTENCE OF SEGREGATION
FROM 1890 TO 1940, U.S. communities that barred people of color after dark flourished in the North and West. Though all-white enclaves have become less common, new research shows that the sun still hasn’t set on “sundown towns.”
In his pioneering 2005 book Sundown Towns, James Loewen, a sociologist, estimated there may have been as many as 20,000 sundown towns in the United States. In Illinois, the state he has studied most closely, there were about 505.
Using the latest census figures, Loewen has found that most once-segregated towns in the East, Midwest and Appalachia, and nearly all those on the West Coast, have integrated. In Illinois, for example, fewer than 200 towns remain all white.
But a diverse population alone isn’t enough to erase the legacy of exclusion. Often, local governments remain predominantly white, as in Ferguson, Missouri, a once-segregated town that attracted massive protests after a white police officer killed a black man in 2014.
These are “‘second-generation sundown town problems,” Loewen says. “The town is clearly not a sundown town anymore. And just as clearly, it has never come to terms with its sundown past.”