In many parts of the United States as late as the mid-20th century, it was not uncommon for communities to exclude African Americans by force, law, or custom. These so-called “sundown towns” – and the unwritten laws that kept them essentially all-white – are the subject of the next Bonner and Bonner Diversity Lecture Series presentation at Emporia State University.
Dr. James Loewen, author and sociologist, will present “Sundown Towns: Hidden Racism Across America,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008, in Emporia State’s Memorial Union Webb Lecture Hall. Admission to the lecture is free of charge.
Loewen defines a sundown town as any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it, rendering the community “all-white.” Many such communities posted signs warning non-whites to leave the city limits by sunset, giving rise to the “sundown town” designation.
“When I began this research,” Loewen notes, “I expected to find about ten sundown towns in Illinois, my home state, and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States.”
Loewen’s most recent book, “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” provides the backdrop for his Emporia State University address. The book won the Gustavus Myers Human Rights Book Award and was named by Booklist as a 2005 Editor’s Choice Selection.
For 20 years, Loewen taught race relations at the University of Vermont. Prior to that, he taught at Mississippi’s historically black Tougaloo College. Since 1997, he has been a visiting professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Loewen is also the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong,” and “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.” Both books chronicle the ways that errors and omissions in everything from classroom textbooks to highway historical signs have led to an incomplete recounting of U.S. history.
Loewen will be available to sign copies of his books at a reception immediately following the lecture.
Loewen’s Bonner and Bonner address comes during the same week as ESU’s annual Homecoming celebration. “We think the intellectual bulk of Dr. Loewen’s presentation will complement the mix of activities that Emporia State traditionally serves up during Homecoming Week,” noted Dr. Michael R. Lane, ESU president.