Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sundown Towns

Heard this interview on Pacifica radio Monday morning with James Loewen, the author of "Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension of Racism in America", a book about "sundown towns", wherein the policy was or is to keep non-whites of various or all sorts from staying after dark, overnight, or at least from living there. I used to be amazed at what a high percentage of cacausian people some of those Sonoma County towns I grew up in had, but figured twas ever thus, kind of a historical thing. I remember hearing about the Marin court cases in the late '60s or early '70s where some towns had to take out the "don't rent or sell to negroes" covenants or somesuch thing. Robin Williams had a schtick about it where he made his voice sound like a Marin Co. sheriff speaking into a walkie-talkie "We have two negroes entering the county, just make sure they pass on through". Rumor had it in Sonoma Co. that the Cotati Rod & Gun Club was the local front for the KKK and was one of their first West Coast strongholds, closely connected to the Marin Rod & Gun Club. Supposedly that's why Sonoma and Marin backed out of the BART plan at the last minute, it was supposed to run all the way to Santa Rosa. Not a lot of records kept of course, same as for the towns in the book. In Berkeley the line was MLK, no blacks, chinese, etc. east of there. The facts and theories stated so far didn't really raise my eyebrows, figuring that xenophobia tastes similar to Hostess apple pie, and what with the danger to the women and all, it would have been expected (in my sick mind) to exclude non-whites if you could. One of my high school girlfriend's parents forbade her to see me because of my heritage, family tradition in Sonoma Co. perhaps, or maybe I'm still a little naive. Girl missed a lot of tennis practice and went to the library tons, but it still pisses me off those assholes did that, and her mom was always so nice on the phone, two-faced bigot, or maybe she was just going along with the dad (silencio=muerte), he was a dick on the phone. On the white side of my family my mom's dad used to call my mom's mom a nigger lover (Loewen mentions the term as a key slogan in sundown town story) for various perceived offenses; maybe that's why I have a non-white side of the family. But Loewen went on, more to the story. He spoke about a movement from 1890-1930 to drive the non-whites that were already living in most every town and county the fuck out, a kind of "pump up the racism campaign". Hearst & the media of the time must have played a major role. My maternal grandfather, being born in 1918 in Canada was likely to have experienced this northen phenomenon (sundown towns were almost non-existent south of the Mason-Dixon line, gotta have a [wage]slave after all). Meanwhile, during the same period, my paternal grandmother, a black woman, moved "back to Africa" as part of Marcus Garvey's movement. Loewen mentions Darien, CT for it's policy of not selling to Jews (I don't think renting is allowed at all). One of my mom's sisters used to live there, and before my wife & I left our friend Kibi in Boston to go there Kibi made a quip about the Aryans from Darien, but I had no idea how current the policies were, very recent in many instances. Similar deal in La Jolla, which just happens to be where we were married. For me this book is a must read, eventually; the list is long.

http://www.uvm.edu/~jloewen/sundown/index.html

1 comment:

Zahrala said...

Although I know in my heart that racism is far from dead, it is always easier to set up life to avoid confronting it overmuch. Sounds like this book is a healthy reminder, I'll check it out.