Sundown Towns

Beltane and the Shadow Mountain Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: That old hometown. Race. Colorism. War games. Working the night shift. Final week in paradise. Murdoch. The quiet, relaxed Murdoch. Joe. Mary’s knowledge of ESL. Bird songs. Grieving. Going home.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Language. Senses. Whatever is actually other there beyond their mediation.


Please read this first. At least as much as you can stomach. Yes, that’s my hometown mentioned often.

Elwood reputedly had a No Niggers In Town After Sundown addition to its signs at the city limits. I do not recall seeing them myself, but it was well known in Alexandria. Of course, Elwood was our to the death basketball nemesis. Could have affected our memories and what we took to be fact.

Although Madison Counties “third largest city” (hah. 5,800 folks. If we had all been a foot long, the whole town wouldn’t stretch much more than a mile.), may never have had such a sign; and, I’m pretty sure we didn’t, since I went in and out of town often in the 18 years I lived there, there was only one Black family with kids in our school system. Mike Taylor was in my class.

Sure, we were aware he was the only one, but we didn’t think much of it. It was our town, the only one we knew and that was the way it was. When put, however, in the context of many towns with the same reality, I wonder how we didn’t recognize it. White privilege, obviously.

My friend Clarence Davis, with whom I did organizational consulting for a while in the Twin Cities, had relatives lynched in an infamous incident in Marion, Indiana, less than a half an hour north of Alex. Strange Fruit.

I do remember the Klan recruiting in Alexandria, out by the Curve Restaurant. In regalia. OMG. We had other extremists, too. A local doctor was a member of the John Birch Society. Others belonged to the Minutemen, an early right wing militia.

Easy to see why a sign would not have been necessary. This defines white privilege. I could live in Alexandria, the liberal son of a liberal newspaper editor and a liberal substitute school teacher, and not tumble to the deeply racist reality which I supported simply by my continued presence there.

So much hate. So much casual cruelty. For so long. Embedded in our constitution, our laws, our economics, our religion, our education.

BTW: So called Critical Race Theory, a new whipping post for the right wing, got its voice early in a New Left analysis of the System though the New Left tended to focus more on economics than race. Back in the sixties we pointed out the way our corporate capitalist economy, allied with the military/industrial complex, created safe havens for whites, for the rich, and stark penalties for the poor, those of color, those with sexual identities other than cisgendered. Redlining. Housing costs. Food deserts. Housing discrimination. Discrimination in hiring and in education quality. The list is long and sad. And, still true.

An odd feature of the sundown towns, at least those in Madison County, is their voting record when I grew up. Distinctly Democratic and liberal in spite of racial animus and deep roots in the anti-Democratic south. Labor union. The UAW, the United Autoworkers Union, represented most of those employed in Madison County due to two huge General Motors factories: Delco Remy and Guide Lamp. 25,000 total employees at their peak, running three shifts, seven days a week.

The UAW knew they needed the support of the Democratic party to balance the corporate power of the Big Three automakers: GM, Ford, and Chrysler. As a result, they turned out straight ticket votes for a string of Democratic congressmen and Senators.

This all deteriorated following George Wallace’s run for the Presidency, the decline of the American automobile industry, and the rise of a conservatism that began with Barry Goldwater, created the Moral Majority, and reached an apotheosis in Ronald Reagan. This was not the conservatism of an Everett Dirksen or William Buckley, but a foretaste of the veering toward, then careening over into, extremism that we know now.

That liberal bandage over a gaping racist wound demonstrates the unholy wedding between white power wielded by either liberals or conservatives and the racist/classist superstructure of our post-WWII society.

Black Lives Matter, George Floyd’s death and the trial of Derek Chauvin, Joe Biden’s win over 45, give us a brief window for change. It will close quickly. probably in the election of 2022.

The sundown towns, while shameful, wrong, and too prevalent, point toward the broader systemic pattern of oppression. Can it be changed? Only with great difficulty. Never waste a crisis.


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