JIM LOEWEN, jloewen at uvm.edu
Loewen taught race relations for twenty years at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism in which he describes “Sundown Towns” as predominantly white communities in which people of color are not welcome. They are described as such because some of them posted signs at their city limits reading, typically, “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___.” He is also the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.
He said today, “I think Ferguson was a sundown town, based on a statement in the published history of its neighbor, Kinloch, a majority-black town, but I have not confirmed Ferguson for sure.
“Often former sundown suburbs, when they do ‘break,’ rapidly go majority black. Their white residents, having lived for years under the ideology that African Americans are bad and must be wholly kept from town, have an ideological reason to leave, once their town becomes interracial. All too often they sell at distressed prices to real estate intermediaries. In turn these agents can sell the homes to black families looking to buy in newly available ‘integrated’ areas for a premium.
“The white families then move to a sundown suburb farther out and carry with them the contagion that ‘blacks wreck property values,’ since they sold for less than market value.
“Ferguson meanwhile shows symptoms of what we call ‘second generation sundown town problems,’ such as an overwhelmingly white police force that (probably) formerly employed driving-while-black-style stops.
“Every former (and current) sundown town and suburb in the U.S. needs to give up the practice, explicitly and openly. That will relieve the black housing pressure so interracial towns will no longer tend to go all-black. It will also clear the air about our recent racist past, allowing locales all across the U.S. to move forward.”