Ex­clu­sion Zones


Smithsonian Magazine - - Prologue -

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.”

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