Most known for his books "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Lies Across America," James Loewen tackles a subject that few white and just as many blacks Americans know little about and that is racism in small town America. "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism," is a kick in head for those believing that racism in the United States is dead. This book also holds a significant reminder for me because I saw the signs and encountered the people in "sundown" towns.
"Sundown towns" are small towns or suburbs that threatened African Americans to keep out–or else. Loewen makes it clear that not only did they exist, but remain in a variety of places all over the United States. Often sobering and shocking, Loewen's account reveals the insidious legacy of racism that still reverberates today.
Loewen's book grabbed my attention and held it because I had experienced what he writes about firsthand. When I was a young man, baseball was the game of youth across the United States. As a young black teenager, I played baseball well enough to move up to the semi-pro level. Playing semi-pro baseball meant leaving the local ball field to play in other towns in the vicinity. I first saw the sign "Nigger be out of town by Sundown" in Vinita, Oklahoma. I was angered and frightened. So, much of what Loewen writes about is personal to me.
The book traces the advent of "sundown towns" in rural Illinois, Loewen’s home state. Although written on a scholarly level, the book is filled with facts, figures and meticulous research. Even though it is not an easy read, it is well worth the effort. Every American should read this book, especially those who think racism was limited to the South. It wasn't. For many, that the North had thousands of "sundown towns" may come as a revelation, but Loewen's research makes it clear that sundown town not only existed in the north, but still are part of the American landscape.
The author gives an extensive analysis of racism and states clearly that the idea of post racialism is flawed idea at best and misleading at worst. “Sundown Towns" raises the curtain of racism and hypocrisy in American society and reveals known history that today even its victims know little about. The reader is forewarned that the material is maddening and shameful. However, Loewen is a dispassionate researched and lets the story tell itself.
This is an important book in understanding America's racial legacy that rarely if ever is written much less unveiled in public discourse because few know about it and those that do are individuals such as me that have no forum to mention it. Again, this is not an easy read because of its scholarly nature, but it because of that that I rate it so highly. It is well worth the effort, despite its 450 pages, to become informed of past and current American history.
Donald R Barbera, 2006