Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Monday, January 15, 2007
  Sundown Towns
David Neiwert, probably one of the nations experts on the white supremist movement and a leading voice on the subject of modern discrimination, has an excellent post up on this Dr. Martin Luther King Day. He is excerpting and expanding on James Loewen's book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.

The very long post (give yourself 20 minutes if you want to read the whole thing) hits on many subjects but focuses on the evolution of northern "Sundown Towns" after reconstruction. Sundown towns are places where non-whites were/are not welcome to own or rent property and tended to be chased out after dark. Loewen rightfully mentions suburban Detroit as a classic example. My painfully intimate knowledge of the subject harkens back 20-30 years when the parents of my childhood peers held meetings to figure out ways to "keep the bad influences of the city out." (My parents, being very staunch Humphrey Democrats politely told those coordinating such things to shut up.) The biggest of these was an idea to "accidentally" destroy the two bridges over Fox Creek which separated our neighborhood from a quickly deteriorating section of Detroit proper. Fortunately the demolition never happened.

However, in 1984, parents became so hysterical about the 'dangers of a black city' they did force the school to cancel the Junior Prom to be held in a fancy downtown hotel. Instead, the Chrysler Executive father of a student pulled few strings and got the company's "auto show" curtains and carpeting to decorate the school gym. True story.

Later, around 1990, I was shown the deed to my boss's circa 1970 house in uber-exclusive Bloomfield Hills. In the deed, written as clear as day, was a covenant forbidding the sale or rent of the property to non-whites. (except for servants. Seriously) In an odd twist, Aretha Franklin now lives about 1/2 mile away in a much bigger house that she never would have been allowed to buy at the peak of her fame.

And now in 2007, I still see the problems of race crop up. I hear North Adams residents refer to a long time black resident as "Nigger Fred" and then tell me "he likes being called that." (of course he does... or you wouldn't give him the time of day!) I hear talk of "good blacks" and "bad blacks."

In my sister's suburban Chicago town, many of the white residents quietly whisper that the recent influx of Hispanics is a super secret plot to take over the country. (Thanks Hannity and O'Reilly for making that nonsense mainstream - Assholes.) It is eery to hear well-educated middle class folk and their kids buy into the eliminationist "us or them" racist rhetoric. These same people probably reasuure themselves by remembering that they voted for Obama in 2004. (Good thing his name is not Guitierrez. He wouldn't have had a chance.)

So on this holiday take a few minutes and think about these issues. I doubt I'll change your mind if you're stuck in the mode of Jimmy Kelly, but hopefully you'll come to a little better understanding of how issues of race have gotten to where they are in 2007.
Pardon me for the off topic post. But I didn't have your email. Did you hear that Gideon's and EGL in North Adams have closed? (As in, it's unclear if they will reopen.) What little I know is on my blog (shameless plug)

--David Pittelli
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A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

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