Black History Fun Fact Friday – Sundown Towns

“Is it true that ‘Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I had stopped to buy coffee. “Yes,” the clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it,” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.” “I understand [racial exclusion] is still going on?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “That’s sad.”—conversation with clerk, Anna, Illinois, October 2001. James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (Touchstone, 2006),3

Anna, Illinois was named after the daughter of the founder of the town, but got its more derogatory name after the 1909 lynching of a black man in Cairo IL and the mob of angry white citizens who drove out Anna’s 40 or so black families following the lynching. It is at this point that Anna, IL became a sundown town.

A sundown town is a town with an exclusive population of non-whites on purpose. They are towns with overwhelming populations of non-whites and are so deliberately.

Historically, the name Sundown-town comes from Blacks not being allowed in certain towns beyond sunset and the signs that some towns posted within their city limits warning Blacks not to let the sun go down on them in that town (see pics).

Side Note: I wonder if that’s where the parental command to be in the house when the street lights came on, comes from? I’d have to explore that one.

Although signs were posted, forced exclusion was also implemented:

“There were also race riots in which white mobs attacked black neighborhoods, burning, looting, and killing. Across America, at least 50 towns, and probably many more than that, drove out their African American populations violently. At least 16 did so in Illinois alone. In the West, another 50 or more towns drove out their Chinese American populations. Many other sundown towns and suburbs used violence to keep out blacks or, sometimes, other minorities.” – America’s Black Holocaust Museum, James W. Loewen, PhD; Fran Kaplan, EdD; and Robert Smith, PhD

The Beginning

Sundown towns began after Slavery and the Civil War when blacks left the plantations and poured into every city and corner of the country. This was followed by the system we know as Jim Crow, in which black codes and laws were made for the intention of keeping blacks as enslaved as possible despite their free status.

Of course, we are familiar by now with the eyes that had to be kept to the ground, the stepping to the side when whites walked by, the separate restrooms and water fountains, movie theaters and many others. But in addition to all this were sundown towns, all-white neighborhoods where blacks were not allowed to live. Many of these towns existed in the North as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into Northern Cities.

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These communities feared the blacks pouring into their neighborhoods and established Sundown towns by evicting black residents and not allowing them in.

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This statue of Orville Hubbard which sits outside of the City Hall in Dearborn Michigan, was the cause of much controversy when people started to learn more about his past.

Hubbard was the mayor of the then all-white suburban town outside of Detroit from 1942 to 1978 and in a 1969 speech acquired by the New York Times said that “If whites didn’t want to live with N–they sure didn’t have to.” He went on to say that this was a free country and that this was America.

“City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,’ ” according to David Good, a lifelong resident of the city who is the author of ‘‘Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn,” a biography of Mayor Hubbard.

“Out here in Dearborn where some real Ku Klux Klans live. I know Dearborn, you know I’m from Detroit, used to live out there in Easten. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Easten. Just like riding through Mississippi once you got to Dearborn.” -Malcolm X

Over time the name “Sundown-town” faded but Sundown Suburbs still exist. A sundown suburb is a discrete way in which Sundown-towns exist today. It is when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The First Black Public High School

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In 1870, the first Black public High School opened in Washington, D.C. or rather, the first recorded school (Aside from Tuskegee Institute–one of the first schools for African Americans financially sponsored by Blacks and Whites but headed by a Black President, the late Booker T. Washington–I do not believe Dunbar was the first High School just as Rosa Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat on a bus (LEARN MORE HERE) there is a lot of things that just aren’t recorded.)

The Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (renamed in 1916 to M Street Public School when its location was changed from M Street), was founded in the basement of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church by William Syphak, the first chair of the Board of Trustees of the Colored Public Schools in the District of Columbia. According to Dr. Thomas Sowell in an article (100 Years After Dunbar) in 1899, when it was called “the M Street School,” a test was given in Washington’s four academic public high schools, three white and one Black. The Black High School scored higher than two of the three white High Schools. Of course, this isn’t about color or race but is used as an example to highlight the success of all Black Schooling at that time.

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Blacks during Segregation were more unified considering many of us had to stick together in order to build communities and schools. For this reason, many all-Black communities, as well as all Black schools, did well. There was a communal spirit among blacks during segregation that sadly deteriorated once we were capable of going outside of ourselves.

Before Brown vs. Board of Education, Dunbar acquired only the best teachers, many of them with Ph.Ds. and graduated 80% of its students. Among its students: the architect of school desegregation, Charles Hamilton Houston, Elizabeth Catlett, the artist, Billy Taylor, the jazz musician, the first Black general in the Army, the first Black graduate of the Naval Academy, and the first Black presidential Cabinet member, according to Journalist Alison Stewart, author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School as told to NPR host Cornish on All Things Considered.

In addition, many more, including the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from an American institution, the first Black federal judge, and a doctor who became internationally renowned for his pioneering work in developing the use of blood plasma.

The Downfall of Dunbar

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Source: Courtesy of Chicago Review Press

Unfortunately, like many Black experiences after integration, Dunbar declined. According to Sowell, senior at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University:

“For Washington, the end of racial segregation led to a political compromise, in which all schools became neighborhood schools. Dunbar, which had been accepting outstanding Black students from anywhere in the city, could now accept only students from the rough ghetto neighborhood in which it was located. Virtually overnight, Dunbar became a typical ghetto school. As unmotivated, unruly and disruptive students flooded in, Dunbar teachers began moving out and many retired. More than 80 years of academic excellence simply vanished into thin air.”

I agree with Sowell only to an extent. I do not think that “unruly and disruptive ghetto students” are responsible for the downfall of Dunbar, but rather the decline in Blacks students being taught by Black teachers concerning Black lives and Black history.

I remember a video interview Maya Angelou gave where she testified that her school was “grand” and many others of the era who described their schooling as a positive experience. Though not given the same quality of learning materials, I believe Blacks got a better education before integration. Not merely because of segregation itself, but rather because it forced us to unify in a way that does not exist today.

In short, we were educating our own. Without teachers and faculty who actually understand them, their struggles and experiences, students can find it harder to adjust. In Angelou’s words, “blacks used what the West Africans in Senegal called ‘Sweet Language'” which is still used today. For example:

“Hey, there” is used as opposed to, “Hi, how are you?”

The Hey is drawn out and spoken with a certain tone of familiarity as sweet language is dependent entirely on tone. The way that Angelou spoke herself was in a sort of sweet language where every word, even if she didn’t mean it to, sounded like poetry.

“Hey, how you?”

This is not grammatically correct or what may be referred to as “proper” and it’s not meant to be. It is the lengthening of the word, the dragging it out and using a loving tone of voice, a caring voice: “Hey.” It is something that Blacks have been doing their entire lives without effort and is something that is mostly understood by other Blacks and while deemed sweet language, I call it a language of love.

This is just one example of the kind of History Israelite, so-called Black, children do not learn in today’s schools.

As the Black teachers moved on, so did Black students interest in learning, or so it seems. Over time, at least three more schools would be named after Dunbar: Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland, Fort Worth, Texas, and Chicago, IL.

While segregation allowed for inferior educational experiences in some respect (such as torn and used books as opposed to new ones) who is to say that the education itself was inferior? I am more interested in what was being taught behind closed doors. The historical, archaeological, and biblical history of Blacks that I am sure to have never made it in the history books. What really made these students prosper as opposed to the students today?

Dunbar now graduates only 55% of its students according to the 2016 values based on student performance on state exit exams and internationally available exams on college-level coursework, and AP®/IB exams are unranked in the National Rankings. But what do we expect? How do we expect the people who oppress us to also teach us the truth about who we are? If you weren’t being treated right, how do you think that you were taught right?

One thing is for certain, to assume that integration made education for Blacks better is up for debate.