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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  953 ratings  ·  152 reviews
Bestselling author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, exposes the secret communities and hotbeds of racial injustice that sprung up throughout the twentieth century unnoticed, forcing us to reexamine race relations in the United States.

In this groundbreaking work, bestselling sociologist James W. Loewen, author of the national bestseller Lies My Teacher Told Me,
Paperback, 576 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Touchstone (first published 2005)
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4.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  953 ratings  ·  152 reviews

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Theophilus (Theo)
Aug 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
I remember traveling with my family when I was very young. My mother always packed lunches for us. My father would sometimes get perrturbed when my sisters or I would not go to the restroom when he stopped for gas. Little did I know then that there were only certain places he would stop (after consulting family and friends who had made that journey before) only at certain places to avoid putting our family through needless stress while spending long hous behind the wheel driving from Milwaukee, ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recommended this book to a friend during the first part of December last year. She read the description and laughed, “Holiday reading, something to depress me over Christmas.” She has a point. It’s not unlike being hammered with a nailgun. There aren’t any uplifting vignettes just one hard fact after another. It reminded me of Maxine Hong Kingston, “This is terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away.”

I would prefer that it was academic with Loewen citing primary sources in
Oct 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a difficult book to read. Not the language, or the way it's written (although the endnotes are annoying; I recommend using two bookmarks), but the subject matter. Loewen lays out, in methodical detail, all of the ways white Americans have utterly screwed over black Americans with residential segregation. If you had any illusions about America being "post-racial," they will be shattered by this book.

This is absolutely essential reading for every white American. I wish they taught this boo
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Sundown Towns is an anthology of racism that led to towns creating covenants (sometimes unwritten) that excluded minorities from living in these towns, working in these towns, and even in some cases passing through these towns .The book is more generally about the racism directed at African Americans, Chinese and Jewish Americans. There is some coverage of lynchings. Heavy stuff for sure. Most of the focus of the book is on the midwest in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan but there are examples fro ...more
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ever wonder why all the poor white people live in tiny towns, while poor black people tend to live in the inner city? This book explains that phenomenon-- apparently many poor black people used to live in tiny towns as well, but they were systematically driven out by lynch mobs, housing ordinances, covenants, banks, and real estate agents. The federal government did its part too, denying black families subsidized loans, and requiring white homeowners to buy homes in segregated neighborhoods. Th ...more
Vannessa Anderson
What I learned

The Democratic party was the white man’s party and didn’t become everybody’s party until 1964

Nadir 1890-1940 Incubator of Sundown Towns

Anna: Ain’t No Niggers Allowed

NDLTSGDOY: Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You

Boy: adult male African Americans who are less than a man

NMNMNN: No Malaria, No Mosquitoes, and No Negroes/Niggers
…had Sundown Towns until 2002

Sundown Towns aka gray towns—sunset towns—any organized jurisdiction that for decades (until the 1970s) kept African American
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When White Americans are confronted with the topic of affirmative action, voting rights, housing practices, or other programs designed to offset systemic injustice, the most common response seems to be that racism is something from the past and isn’t an issue now or simply that it’s not their problem that Black people are just lazy and can’t get ahead. James Loewen in “Sundown Towns” examines how these beliefs led to the formation of all White towns and suburbs across America that continue to e ...more
Maxwell Pearl
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In 1968, my family moved from Queens to Great Neck, a suburb of NY - one of the only NY suburbs at the time that allowed black people to own houses (as a largely Jewish suburb, it accepted us, because they also had been rejected from most suburbs in NY.) So I knew very personally what happened in the suburban US around redlining, and various other tactics, some quite violent, to keep non-whites from living in them.

In 2008, I decided to leave Oakland, and move to Sonoma County, a nice, bucolic ru
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Aargh! Reading this is just maddening. I hate that sundown towns have ever existed, and I hate that so many segregate communities still exist.
Jul 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: haveread
This book is one sided in its thinking. The author, Loewen, comes out in his intro and basically states white vs. black. I would like to have seen more about black society and how they treated "others" whether they were white or Asian. Being put into second class status, blacks often had to compete with Hispanics and other minorities for jobs, how did this play a role in segregation or stereotypes? I understand that most of the sunset towns were geared towards blacks, but it would have been nice ...more
Johnny D
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting dimension of racism, and American racism in particular, is that when whites are confronted with it, their reaction is often to blame the victims of its injustice for creating racism in the first place. To them, blacks create the racism merely by protesting or highlighting that racism. I have found this to be particularly true with reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement and the counterprotests against the recent ugly resurgence of blatant white supremacy. In fact, I recently ...more
May 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Black concentration in large cities is no accident. Other ethnic groups, say immigrants, over time disperse. All white towns, suburbs, neighborhoods, counties...are that way by design. And exist almost exclusively in the north and west of the United States. They are almost non-existent in the traditional south. Whether it was by outright violence, or much more subtle means such as ordinances either written or left unwritten, all white neighborhoods et al, are by design. At times maybe one black ...more
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loewen's book is a must read for anyone who lives in the United States. While lacking the more informal format and tone of his books about historic places and textbooks, Sundown towns sheds light on a little known and little acknowledged evil in America's past and current life.

This book is more of a formal study , which is understandable because Loewen is in part agruing that Sundown Towns existed. His points about neighborhoods and subarbs are equally valid. While he uses harsh (racist) langua
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people living in small predominantly white towns
Here are some highlights from the book thus far (first two chapters)>> very important book:

Sundown Towns
By James Loewen

Sundown town is any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus “all-white on purpose.” (p4)

Between 1890- 1968 white Americans established themselves in SDTs across the USA. (p.4)

Between 1890- 1940s race relations in America grew worse. After the abolishment of slavery steps were being taken to make things b
Clarence Cromwell
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up for research towards an article, and haven't been able to put it down.

A few pages into the book I was shocked by the revelation that so many northern cities (hundreds or thousands) prohibited blacks not only from traveling through after dark but from living in them at all.

James Loewen did an astounding amount of research towards this hefty and exhaustively detailed book.

He spells out a truth that has been hidden in plain sight for decades, but that polite middle class people ne
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Valuable research here, though I agree with another reviewer that it’s best read in conjunction with other books on U.S. history and race relations (particularly those regarding overarching, oppressive structural changes: a proliferation of racist laws and the growing prison system, for example, or trends in urbanization and employment) after the Civil War. Loewen’s reasons for disintegrating race relations from 1890 onward are absolutely valid, but they feel incomplete. While the sundown towns ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an enormously important subject as it rids the reader of any illusions that American racism was & is primarily concentrated in the South. It's clear that Loewen did extensive amounts of research and is to be applauded for even having the courage to tackle this topic. However, as others reviewers have noted he does tend to be repetitive, which took away from my enjoyment of the book. It's still worth the read. I found his suggested solutions at the end to be intriguing - unlikely to e ...more
Kristie Kercheval
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: u-s-history
This was a difficult read. I remember asking my mom when I was kid why there was this neighborhood outside of town that was only black families and she couldn't give me an answer. It was just "there." As were other neighborhoods that were a majority Latino.

Sundown Towns gives us the real history of why we still live in mostly segregated communities. If a city or neighborhood is mostly white today, it is not by accident. There is most likely a history of systematic exclusion of people of color.
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I grew up in Peoria, Illinois in the 80's. We all heard stories about Pekin, the little town 10 miles away. That their high school team name and mascot, until a few years earlier, had been the "Chinks". That there had long been a sign at the town limit (unconfirmed by me) saying "N____, don't Let the Sun Set on You Here." It didn't directly impact me much as a white kid in a fairly integrated school system in a fairly integrated mid-size city. I thought that whites-only (or whites-mostly) towns ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best thing about this book is that it made the geography that I had always accepted as concrete something that was painfully alive. It was striking how many of the deeply segregated towns were familiar to me and helped me realize how pervasive segregation is in the Midwest. His analysis was sweeping and comprehensive, but sometimes felt a bit scattered. He incorporated the ideas of other scholars as well as primary sources, but it often felt blippy. Furthermore, the book already feels dated ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of sundown towns until recently. Chalk it up to poor education. Maybe white privilege. Historical amnesia. Whatever it is, I am certainly not alone. Sundown towns are surprisingly not well known, which is why James Loewen wrote this book.

Up front, this book is thorough. Loewen did tons of research to document sundown towns. This is both a benefit and a curse. It is a benefit because it is the first (only?) major book on sundown towns. The curse is that it is long, dry and at ti
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, audiobooks
Eye opening! In fact, I would add this title to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City as ESSENTIAL reads for anyone wanting to know the realities of life as a present-day and recent past African American. This 2004 book by james Loewen is apparently the first general book to discuss this subject: how small towns (not a few, but over a thousand(!)) in virtually every state in the country took a moment sometime betwee ...more
John Defrog
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mr Allen Young tipped me off to this book, which chronicles the rise and existence of American “sundown towns” – towns and suburbs where African-Americans (and often other non-white, non-Christian minorities) were not allowed to live, or even stay after dark. The book covers a lot of ground, providing a capsule history of the Nadir of racism that enabled sundown towns, how they came to be, and their effects on both whites and blacks. The two biggest surprises for me were: (1) sundown towns are ...more
Connie  Kuntz
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One thing I have learned is that fighting racism is a daily discipline. The second I think I know what racism is, is the second I know it's time to pick up a book on the topic.

Racism is remarkably enduring. To some, it's even endearing, which is partially why there are systems in place to ensure that white neighborhoods, towns, cities, schools, suburbs stay just that: white.

This book helped me understand how sundown towns came into existence, especially in the time
post WWII through to 1968 (a
Feisty Harriet
Disclaimer: I love non-fiction and seek out books on the history of racism in the US and elsewhere. This book was really hard for me to finish, it took months for me to get through it. Part of that is due to the difficult topic, and part of that is due to the fact that this book reads very VERY textbooky, with paragraphs of statistics or lists (which, frankly, could have been better presented in a table or graph) and sections that weren't strung together very well, except that they all dealt wit ...more
Scooping it Up
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, important read though it took me awhile to get through it with stops and starts because it's dense.

Loewen tells history that needs to be told.
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Loewen once again lifts the veil of racism and hypocrisy in American society. Its a tour de force indictment of a practice that gets little recognition even by its victims. Loewen draws a straight line from the usually rich all white sundown towns to the hopelessly poor all Black ghettos. That line is nop accident. He proves that the lakc of opportunity of Blacks to live where ever they want is not a social grouping phenomenum but a racist policy actuaaly endoresed until very recently by the fed ...more
Lacey Losh
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most important books I’ve read in my lifetime.

James Loewen does a fantastic job of informing a nation of discrimination, white supremacy and racial exclusion that has been right under our noses, and that continues in some parts of the US today. Many who read this book (myself included) go into it with little or no prior knowledge of the existence of Sundown Towns. Yet, here they are, all around us.

This novel is surprisingly easy to read and understand, given it’s disturbing su
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it
overall the premise and facts presented in this book are excellent reminders of a somewhat hidden part of america's past/present and hopefully not future. i enjoyed the fact that the author didn't concentrate his "fact finding" in the south, yet looked nationwide for instances of overt and covert residential racism.

that being said, there were a few times while reading that i felt the author was being repetitive with thoughts or phrases and that at several points he mixed his opinion in just a bi
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
The author tells how the white people of this country kicked out all the black people from many towns across America and into the ghettos of large cities. I have so many feelings after reading this book: I'm appalled, horrified, guilty, sad, and sorry. I grew up in two different towns. One was not a sundown town and I lived there through 3rd grade, and the other, although not categorized as such in this book, definitely was. I don't know the details of how it became a sundown town, but as of the ...more
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“By 1970, exclusion was so complete that fewer than 500 black families lived in white suburban neighborhoods in the entire Chicago metropolitan area, and most of those were in just five or six suburbs.” 1 likes
“Many sundown towns had not a single black household as late as the 2000 census, and some still openly exclude to this day.” 0 likes
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