Racial tensions in America’s ‘sundown towns’

Ask around this time-battered Midwestern town, with its empty storefronts, dusty antique shops and businesses that have migrated toward the interstate, and nearly everyone will tell you that Black and White residents get along really well.

“Race isn’t a big problem around here,” said Bill Stevens, a White retired prison guard with a gentle smile, drinking beer with friends on a summer afternoon. “Never has been, really.”

“We don’t have any trouble with racism,” said a twice-widowed woman, also White, with a meticulously-kept yard and a white picket fence.

But in Vienna, as in hundreds of mostly white towns with similar histories across America, much is left unspoken. Around here, almost no one talks openly about the violence that drove out Black residents nearly 70 years ago, or even whispers the name these places were given: “sundown towns.”

Unless they’re among the handful of Black residents.

“It’s real strange and weird out here sometimes,” said Nicholas Lewis, a stay-at-home father. “Every time I walk around, eyes are on me.”

The rules of a sundown town were simple: Black people were allowed to pass through during the day or go

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