Sundown Towns

I’ve been carrying on a debate with some person over the Bobby Jindal editorial at Politico over the past day or so.  The person wanted to compare growing up White in Detroit with growing up Black in Alabama.  Me, being the person that I am, I tried to give him a different perspective of things of which he wasn’t hearing it.  I’ll let you read the conversation.

Blog Dude:  Try growing up in Detroit being a white guy. You will truly know discrimination.

Brosephus:  Is that any different than growing up in Alabama as a Black guy? Been there, done that, and I kept the t-shirt as a souvenir.

Dude:  Yes it is much different. Ever been to Detroit? I have been to Alabama every major and large city in the state. I love it there Detroit is a different world and unless you have been there you have no Idea.

Bro:  I have family in Detroit, and I travel there frequently. I don’t recall any of my White family members or friends having to have police escorts to get them around. They pretty much do so on their own.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are no “safe” areas in this country for anybody. Violence does not discriminate. All groups have those who commit violent acts.

If you only visited the large cities in Alabama, you wouldn’t know of what I speak. Look up sundown towns if you don’t already know of what that term means. There are still some in existence today although it’s not as bad now as it used to be.

Dude:  Police escorts? I have traveld extensively all throughout Alabama and have visited every large city in the state numerous times. That is a very nice try though.

Bro:  You traveled there. I lived there. Big difference. As I said, the large cities are not the problem. You obviously half read to see what you choose to see. Google Hokes Bluff, AL; Cullman, AL; Arab, AL under city data and look at the racial mix. Then google sundown towns in Alabama to see why the racial mix is the way it is.

I’m not trying anything. I’m simply giving you the truth without your rose colored glasses. You’re trying very hard to avoid reality.

Dude:  I dont care what you say it is not worse than detroit.

Bro:  It’s all in perspective. I see that you still refuse to research what I’ve said on your own. That’s ok though. Many people in this country refuse to acknowledge the full and complete history of this country. It’s far easier to walk through life totally clueless about what goes on here. I haven’t heard of a single lynching of a White person in Detroit. I don’t recall any race riots where Blacks killed hundreds of Whites and burned down their neighborhoods, running them out of town. Whites ran away from Detroit of their own free will. You don’t have to care about what I say, but that won’t erase the history of this country.

Enjoyed the dialogue though.

Carrying on that conversation brought up some very unpleasant memories from my past.  I remember going to football games in high school and being threatened by the home crowd in certain towns after our band performed our halftime show.  One distinct event that stays fresh in my mind is one where we played an all White school in a sundown town on their homecoming night.  Our football team handled business pretty well, and we were on our way to leaving that night with a very resounding win.  Around the beginning of the 4th quarter (I think), one of the band mothers from the other school came up to our band director with a worried look on her face.  I didn’t hear the full conversation, but I did hear her say, “You need to get those kids out of here now.  They’re talking about doing something, and I don’t know what it is”

Normally, we would play after the game until the stadium was empty enough for us to march out.  That night, we were on the bus watching the clock count down to zero, fully loaded, engines running, and everyone in their seats ready to go.  We were maybe 25 miles from our school in a different town, and we actually got a police escort from the stadium until we got close to our city limits.  I don’t know what happened in the stadium after the clock hit zero as we were pulling out.  The football team managers had their bus packed, and the team didn’t go to the locker room after the game.  They went straight to the bus pads and all, and they passed us with their escort along the way.  This wasn’t something out of the 1950s Alabama, this happened in the late 1980s.

Perusing the internet while reading up on sundown towns, I found a few blog and news articles that all pointed out a single book written by James W. Loewen Sundown Towns:  A Hidden Dimension of American Racism as a great source of information in regards to these places.  I read a few of the reviews, and they are mostly positive about the information given.

For those who are always searching for the reason why “Blacks are more racist than Whites”, this is probably one of those great starting places.  It’s not that Blacks are more racist.  It’s likely that Blacks don’t trust most Whites because of past performances and experiences.  This country has more than 200 years of mistreating Blacks with little to no repercussions for their behavior.  If one expects the feelings and animosity of more than 200 years of wrongdoing to disappear in a decade or two, I’d suggest a reassessment of their expectations.  There are many of us living today who “were not here/didn’t own slaves/didn’t mistreat people”, but that still does not free us from the sins of the past.

Until we all decide to deal with ALL of our historical baggage, warts and all, nothing in this country will change.  We will not progress, and we will continue to regress.  Given the historical remembrances that are taking place this week, I don’t see a better opportunity than now to begin the discussion.


2 thoughts on “Sundown Towns

  1. I moved to GA in 1975. I can’t tell you just when I heard about sundown towns, but I remember being appalled & horrified. I also remember when a Black family moved here & joined our catholic parish in East Cobb; I tried subtly warn her that things were really different here compared to where she came from – up north I think. As I watch the coverage of the events of 50 years ago, I so regret that I didn’t know then what I have since learned. Maybe I would not have had the courage, but I HOPE I would have boarded one of those buses.


    • Gmare

      If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing about my upbringing. Seeing bigotry and racism up close made me mature a lot sooner than I would have otherwise. The experiences of my youth is what made me into the man that I am now. There are still towns in NE Alabama that have less than 1% Black population with more than 95% of the remaining population being White. I think God purposefully ensured I would be born in the 70s to avoid me having to make decisions that my parents and grandparents had to make as I would have likely not made it to this date otherwise.


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