S2 – Blog 04: Sundown Towns: How to Research Your Town’s Sundown History

One of the things we enjoyed most about Dr. James Loewen book Sundown Towns, is how he encourages readers to do their own research.  This is also an outstanding opportunity to put into practice that history is something you do, not simply something you remember. Gather what evidence you can and determine for yourself if your town was a sundown town. The following blog post is advice from James Loewen about how to conduct your very own research.  

  • Step 1 – Search your own town’s census info on racial composition (CENSUS WEBSITE). Or search in your own public libraries. For smaller towns, count the # of A.A. in the “manuscript census” for 1930 & prior decades (The raw data of the census). Sharp drops of A.A. or other minority populations are suspicious, especially if they are increasing in adjacent towns.
  • Step 2 – Skim local history books at your local library, like the centennial & county histories. They likely won’t say anything about A.A. but there might be surprises. 
  • Step 3 – Scan local newspapers for the decade between 2 adjacent censuses that show a sharp decline in black population. Do they describe any actions whites took to cause the decline? Perhaps a newspaper near a larger town might be more questioning. 
  • Step 4 – Ask local historians or librarians if they know anything. Ask around about who the expert local historians might be and see what they know. Reach out to genealogical societies or the city/county clerk, local historical societies, longtime realtors, etc. 

Remember, you can’t classify an all-white town as a sundown town unless you have evidence. 

What do you do if you have evidence your town was a sundown town? You can add it to current database Loewen keps to monitor research individuals do documenting evidence (SUNDOWN TOWNS IN THE US DATABASE). According to Loewen, “residential segregation remains our nation’s most intractable civil rights problem.” He recommends doing 3 things: 

  1. Admit it
  2. Apologize for it
  3. Adopt a statement that your town no longer discriminates & back this statement with changed actions (Organize a reading of the statement at the next city council meeting)

Good luck with your research! We’d love to hear from you about your experience researching. 

Be sure to join us as we seek to learn all we can about this topic. Subscribe to our blog and get all new content sent directly to your inbox.  Follow us on social media (we are on Twitter and Facebook) and search iTunes or wherever you find podcasts to subscribe to our Forgottonia Project podcast.

Additional links to our research over Sundown Towns:

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