What are sundown towns?
If you need a refresher, or like me grew up in a Southern/very conservative area (the two are not synonymous) and they just didn’t get to this in history classes, sundown towns are pretty close to what it says on the tin. During the Jim Crow Era, if you were not white or Christian, though these towns usually focused on Black individuals, you best be out of town before the sun sets. Sometimes, it wasn’t just a town, it was an entire county. If a Black family tried to move into the area, they would be harassed until they had to move out for their own safety. If you were passing through, you would be watched until you left, and if you didn’t make it out before the streetlamps came on, I hope you had some way of protecting yourself. Most of these towns or counties didn’t have ordinances on the books calling for this, the vast majority of the time it was the community coming together and collectively deciding that folks that didn’t look like them were not welcome and could not stay. With, of course, the exception of maybe one or two black families who were in service to white folks living there, and any interracial children that happened. They could stay, but that does not mean they were welcome.
If you’ve heard of the green book, it was probably in this context. The Negro Motorist Green Book listed towns that were safe for Black road-trippers to visit, where they wouldn’t be denied food or accommodation at restaurants and hotels, and won’t have to fear for their lives. It covered not just the United States, but also Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It became known as “the bible of Black travel during Jim Crow,” and remained in publication, getting regularly updated, until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
If you’re interested, there’s actually an online database, started by James W. Loewen of Lies My Teacher Told Me fame, where you can click on a state and see a list of what sundown towns or counties have been recorded thus far in that state. There are only two states not listed on the map, those being Alaska and Hawai’i. Every other state has at least a small handful of sundown towns in them. Even your super liberal state. Some places like Texas and Kentucky have a lot. This is a living database as well. It is not complete and only lists those that have enough information to confirm it as a sundown. They also track what towns have worked to rectify the past and do better. I highly recommend clicking through and checking out their other resources, as there is a lot more than just a database.