Golf at Sundown: Segregation in America

Recently the Washington Post reviewed sociologist James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, a new book which looks at the hidden history of towns throughout America which have historically used violence and intimidation to maintain their ethnic homogeneity. For example,

Loewen charts the course of segregation in Wyandotte, Mich.: In the early 1870s, whites there drove out a black barber; in 1881 and 1888, they expelled the town’s black hotel workers; in 1907, four white men beat and robbed a black man at the train station; nine years later, a mob of white townspeople “bombarded” a boardinghouse, driving out all the African Americans and killing one. “In the 1940s,” Loewen writes, “police arrested or warned African Americans for ‘loitering suspiciously in the business district’ or being in the park, and white children stoned African American children in front of Roosevelt High School.” In the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania professor who grew up in Wyandotte told him, all the members of a black family who moved into town ended up dead.

Loewen claims to have “personally verified the existence of roughly 1,000 sundown towns between 1890 and 1930,” and estimates that the number could be anywhere between three and fifteen times that number.

I came across this article reading this post over at the Chicago Law Faculty Blog, where Lior Strahilevitz also looks at a less violent method of maintaining residential segregation which became popular during the housing boom of the 1990s: golf courses. From his paper on the subject:

During the 1990s, the United States experienced a boom in the construction of residential developments built around costly golf courses. This occurred at a time when golf participation functioned as a noticeably better proxy for race than income, wealth, or virtually any other characteristic. Curiously, substantial numbers of Americans who purchased homes in mandatory-membership golf communities played no golf. This essay offers circumstantial evidence suggesting that by purchasing homes in these communities, homeowners may simply have been paying a premium for residential racial homogeneity.

Having gone to graduate school in one of the ten most racially segregated cities in the country, Philadelphia, I became particularly interested in the phenomenon of rural and suburban segregation which was beginning to happen at that time. It was argued by many that it was happening because African Americans simply “made a rational choice” to live apart. This new scholarship suggests that this might not be the whole story.

One thought on “Golf at Sundown: Segregation in America

  1. My grandfather lived in Graysville Tennessee, near Dayton, infamous for the ‘monkey trial’ . They did not have a “sundown” policy. They were much more subtle. One black person or family could move into town. They could go about their business and the whites didn’t give them a hard time but they naturally didn’t socialize. As grandad explained it, colored folks are just naturally social and all the white folks had to do was make sure a second colored family never moved in. Eventually, the colored folks moved on.

    I remember seeing a billboard on the outskirts of a little town near Loudon, Tennessee that actually said, “Nigger don’t let the sun set on you in our town.” I think it first said you were welcome to stop by when passing through, but… This was probably in 1962-63. I was a teenager at the time and racism was the norm but that billboard shocked me. I never saw another one.

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