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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in Americaby James W. Loewen
Synopses & Reviews
Many people characterize urban renewal projects and the power of eminent domain as two of the most widely despised and often racist tools for reshaping American cities in the postwar period. In A World More Concrete, N. D. B. Connolly uses the history of South Florida to unearth an older and far more complex story. Connolly captures nearly eighty years of political and land transactions to reveal how real estate and redevelopment created and preserved metropolitan growth and racial peace under white supremacy. Using a materialist approach, he offers a long view of capitalism and the color line, following much of the money that made land-taking and Jim Crow segregation profitable and preferred approaches to governing cities throughout the twentieth-century.
A World More Concrete argues that black and white landlords, entrepreneurs, and even liberal community leaders used tenements and repeated land dispossession to take advantage of the poor and generate remarkable wealth. Through a political culture built on real estate, South Floridas landlords and homeowners advanced property rights and white property rights, especially, at the expense of more inclusive visions of equality. For black people and many of their white allies, uses of eminent domain helped to harden class and color lines. Yet, for many reformers, confiscating certain kinds of real estate through eminent domain also promised to help improve housing conditions, to undermine the neighborhood influence of powerful slumlords, and to open new opportunities for suburban life for black Floridians.
Concerned more with winners and losers than with heroes and villains, A World More Concrete offers a sober assessment of money and power in Jim Crow America. It shows how negotiations between powerful real estate interests on both sides of the color line gave racial segregation a remarkable capacity to evolve, revealing property owners power to reshape American cities in ways that can still be seen and felt today.
"According to bestselling sociologist Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me), 'something significant has been left out of the broad history of race in America as it is usually taught,' namely the establishment between 1890 and 1968 of thousands of 'sundown towns' that systematically excluded African-Americans from living within their borders. Located mostly outside the traditional South, these towns employed legal formalities, race riots, policemen, bricks, fires and guns to produce homogeneously Caucasian communities — and some of them continue such unsavory practices to this day. Loewen's eye-opening history traces the sundown town's development and delineates the extent to which state governments and the federal government, 'openly favor[ed] white supremacy' from the 1930s through the 1960s, 'helped to create and maintain all-white communities' through their lending and insuring policies. 'While African Americans never lost the right to vote in the North... they did lose the right to live in town after town, county after county,' Loewen points out. The expulsion forced African-Americans into urban ghettoes and continues to have ramifications on the lives of whites, blacks and the social system at large. Admirably thorough and extensively footnoted, Loewen's investigation may put off some general readers with its density and statistical detail, but the stories he recounts form a compelling corrective to the 'textbook archetype of interrupted progress.' As the first comprehensive history of sundown towns ever written, this book is sure to become a landmark in several fields and a sure bet among Loewen's many fans." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Loewen (emeritus, sociology, U. of Vermont) exposes the history and persistence of "sundown towns," so-named for the signs often found at their corporate limits warning African Americans and other minorities not to be found in the town after dusk. He historically situates the rise of the sundown town movement in the years following the Civil War; describes the mechanisms of violence, threats, law, and policy that were used to force minorities out of Northern and Western towns into the big cities; and charts the continued existence of such communities. In considering the sociology of sundown towns he investigates the causes that underlie the existence of sundown towns and discusses why the phenomena has remained largely hidden. The social costs of sundown towns on whites, blacks, and the social system are then detailed and recommendations for fixing this blight on the body politic are proffered.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The explosive story of racial exclusion in the north, from the American Book Award-winning author of Lies My Teacher Told Me
As American as apple pie:
- Most suburbs in the United States were originally sundown towns.
- As part of the deepening racism that swept through the United States after 1890, town after town outside the traditional South became intentionally all-white, evicting their black populations with tactics that ranged from intimidation to outright violence.
- From Myakka City, Florida, to Kennewick, Washington, the nation is dotted with thousands of all-white towns that are (or were until recently) all-white on purpose. Sundown towns can be found in almost every state.
Don't let the sun go down on you in this town. We equate these words with the Jim Crow South but, in a sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, award-winning and bestselling author James W. Loewen demonstrates that strict racial exclusion was the norm in American towns and villages from sea to shining sea for much of the twentieth century.
Weaving history, personal narrative, and hard-nosed analysis, Loewen shows that the sundown town was--and is--an American institution with a powerful and disturbing history of its own, told here for the first time. In Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, sundown towns were created in waves of violence in the early decades of the twentieth century, and then maintained well into the contemporary era.
Sundown Towns redraws the map of race relations, extending the lines of racial oppression through the backyard of millions of Americans--and lobbing an intellectual hand grenade into the debatesover race and racism today.
"Don't let the sun go down on you in this town" are words equated with the Jim Crow South, but in a sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, award-winning and bestselling historian Loewen demonstrates that strict racial exclusion was the whole country's norm for much of the 20th century.
About the Author
N. D. B. Connolly
Table of Contents
Introduction: Americas Playground
Part I: Foundation
One: The Magic City
Two: Bargaining and Hoping
Part II: Construction
Three: Jim Crow Liberalism
Five: Knocking on the Door
Six: A Little Insurance
Part III: Renovation
Seven: Bulldozing Jim Crow
Eight: Suburban Renewal
Conclusion: The Tragic City
List of Abbreviations
What Our Readers Are Saying
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History and Social Science » African American Studies » General