Here's a local story from the Des Moines Register on this...
Racism lurking at sundown in Iowa?
An author includes New Market, Ia., in a book that reveals how old laws forbade blacks from being in town after dark
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
January 22, 2006
No African-Americans live in New Market. Only two live in Taylor County.
This may not be news in Iowa. After all, one-fourth of Iowa's 99 counties have 15 or fewer blacks. Ten counties have fewer than 10.
Many residents of Taylor County say it is a logical development, part of the overall trend that has emptied the rural Iowa landscape. There are no jobs for blacks in the county. Why would they relocate there?
But author James Loewen doesn't buy it. He says the small numbers or total absence of black residents in the rural areas and suburbs of the Midwest is no accident. It's the fallout of a practice that began in the 1890s when thousands of communities across the country established towns for whites only, because blacks were seen as unfit or inferior to whites.
In scores of towns in the Midwest, Loewen found, ugly signs were posted that warned blacks: "N-----, Don't let the sun go down on you" here. Loewen was told that the town of Manning had such a sign. The town has no blacks among its nearly 1,500 residents. Jeff Clothier of Colfax remembers seeing the sign in his grandmother's photo collection, which was thrown away in her later years.
"She said she thought someone had put up that sign and that it wasn't done officially by anyone representing the town," Clothier said.
Other communities, including at least two in Taylor County, had city ordinances barring blacks from the town after dark. In more extreme cases, they were chased out of town with suspicious fires, schoolyard beatings and law enforcement harassment.
"Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism" (The New Press, $29.95) is said to be the first book to chronicle the practice. Most would assume this systematic racism took place in the Deep South, where it was actually rare.
But in the Midwest, as many as 15,000 towns could have been sundown towns.
"I wanted the subtitle to be 'The History of Ethnic Cleansing,' but the New Press wouldn't let me," said Loewen, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont. "Most Americans think ethnic cleansing means killing everybody. It's not. It's driving people out."
The sundown era began in 1890 after the Wounded Knee massacre changed the mind-set that it was OK to discriminate, Loewen said. That was followed by a Mississippi law removing blacks from citizenship and the U.S. Senate's failure to pass a bill for fair elections in 1890.
From 1890 to 1940, blacks were kept out of towns in Illinois and Iowa and other Midwest states. The author identified a subregion of counties along the Missouri-Iowa border that he calls a sundown region.
In Iowa's southern tier counties, Loewen said, residents feared an influx of blacks coming from Missouri after the Civil War and took steps to keep them out.
Decades later, the effects are still evident, he said. Many sundown towns remain nearly all-white today.
"Who knows how many sundown towns are in Iowa?" said Loewen, who added that despite six years of research, he couldn't travel to every town.
If he had time, he said, he could uncover many more. Looking at census numbers, Loewen identified towns with nine or fewer blacks and talked to local historians, genealogists and longtime residents. Many openly told him of past practices, even though the ordinances were hard to find.
"The fact that everyone knows it exists has the same effect as having it in written form," he said.
He identified New Market, Ia., as a sundown town.
A trip to Taylor County would show why.TAYLOR COUNTY
, sitting on the Missouri border in southwest Iowa, is one of Iowa's smallest counties, with 6,689 residents.
New Market, population 456, has little left on its main street, although two employers have erected new buildings and there is still hope for the future.
There are no blacks in New Market and, according to the 2000 census, just two in the county. Today, the Des Moines Sunday Register confirmed, at least three black students live in Taylor County. School officials in nearby Lenox say two black students are enrolled; Bedford officials count one. The students couldn't be reached for this story.
In 1880, there were 130 blacks in Taylor County.
Most people in town are familiar with the old sundown ordinance, although a search of city archives can't confirm it.
"My high school history teacher told me about it in 1985," said New Market Mayor Frank Sefrit. "He'd gone down and dug it up one day. I was embarrassed. But things have changed. I know my grandfather was racist, plain as day. But I'd say in the last 50 years, you don't see that kind of thing."
In fact, Loewen writes, there is evidence that the New Market ordinance had the force of law as late as the mid-1980s.
University of Northern Iowa history professor John Baskerville, who is black, told Loewen he was in a band that played in New Market.
According to Baskerville, the local sheriff notified City Council members at the concert that an ordinance prohibited a "colored" person from being in town after dark. At the time, the council members agreed to suspend the law "for the night."
"New Market's sundown ordinance went right back into effect the following night," Loewen writes.
Eva Fine, a member of the City Council at the time, said the ordinance was like many still on the books in small towns. People ignored it.
"We didn't think anything of it," she said.
Both she and Earl Lewis, also on the council in the mid-1980s, say they remember no move to overturn the ordinance. "It didn't happen," Lewis said.
The current Taylor County sheriff, Lonnie Weed, said law enforcement officials would technically have to enforce a city ordinance. "But something like that, no way I would enforce it."
City clerks in both Lenox and New Market say they, too, remember the sundown ordinances in their towns.
"Lenox was violently opposed to blacks. It was well-known," said Helen Janson, the president of the Taylor County Historical Society.
Ask old-timers playing cards at the community center in New Market, and there are knowing nods.
"One night, one slept in the old chicken brooding house over there," said Floyd Jobe, 80, pointing his hand of cards to the west. "They ran him out of town. Last I saw him, he was heading north. I talked to the guys that did it. It was about 40 or 50 years ago."
Jobe remembered another ugly incident. In Maryville, Mo., a few miles south across the border, Velma Colter, a 20-year-old schoolteacher, was killed in 1930. Raymond Gunn, 27, a black man, was accused of the murder.
While Gunn was being detained, a lynch mob took him to the schoolhouse where the teacher had been killed and burned him alive on the roof of the school as hundreds of spectators watched.
Such dramatic events often had a chilling effect that would last for decades, Loewen said.
After the killing, "a great many blacks left town," said Thomas Carneal, a retired history teacher at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville.
But the exodus of blacks predates the lynch mob, he said. Many had already moved to Omaha and Des Moines. Even today, blacks who attend the Maryville university often move away to seek better opportunities and black culture in other areas, he said.OTHER HISTORIANS
in Iowa agree with Loewen's documentation of subtle racism in Iowa, but argue that most of the movement away from the state was for economic reasons.
More blacks did live in rural Iowa once. In 1900, there were 325 black farmers. By the 1990s, there were only 33.
Other blacks worked on railroads or in hotels when small-town Iowa was thriving.
Hal Chase, who specializes in black history at Des Moines Area Community College and edited "Outside In: African-American History in Iowa," said the black population in Iowa did increase over the years, but the population settled in bigger Iowa cities for employment.
"But I wouldn't disagree that aversive white racism existed, rather than the kind you would see in Alabama or Texas," he said. "The thesis that active white racism drove people out "” you'll look hard for evidence of that in Iowa. But as far as not selling homes to blacks, restrictive covenants, railroad unions that didn't hire blacks "” that was real."
One black family from Taylor County tells a different story.
Adam and Martha Johnson were two of Iowa's early black farmers when they bought a farm in Taylor County near Gravity in the 1880s. From this farm, granddaughter Lulu Johnson was raised and later went on to earn a doctorate in history from the University of Iowa, one of the first black women in Iowa to do so.
"They remember having good experiences down there," said Kim Jackson of Des Moines. Lulu was her great-aunt. "They always went back for reunions."
Loewen says the double standard in Iowa was "tragic" because the state was progressive early on, passing an act to allow African-Americans the right to vote before the 15th Amendment passed.
"They did so because they thought it was right," he said. "Then many Iowa towns backslid and became all white on purpose. That's heartbreaking."
It remains a puzzle that Iowa counties with only a handful of blacks sit next to those with many. That was true historically, and it holds true today.
In Page County, directly west of Taylor County with its two black residents, there are 313. Some say it's because of the old coal mines that hired blacks decades ago near Clarinda. But the New Market area also had coal mines.
"Twenty years ago when I was doing research on coal mining towns, I could lay out a map and know which camps hired black miners and which didn't. It was like a checkerboard," said Dorothy Schwieder, an Iowa historian. "I couldn't find any reason to explain that."LOEWEN CLAIMS
the practices weren't accidental, and the attitudes prevail decades later.
Look no farther than Lenox.
Just 10 years ago, when Stanton met Lenox in a high school football game, a racial incident erupted.
Dave Burham, a biracial Stanton player, had recently moved to Iowa to live with his grandfather, Bobby Burham. The 15-year-old claimed he was beaten following a game and racial slurs were directed toward him.
"Dave is of mixed race," said Bobby Burham of his white daughter's son. "As he was leaving the field, fans had gathered at the exit. He had a Mohawk and someone yelled, 'Nice hair, n-----.' Dave had a sense of humor. He told them it was Velcro that kept his helmet on."
Then, his grandfather reports, he was pushed in the back; students and adults piled on top of him, kicking and swinging until the Stanton football coach noticed the mayhem and rescued him.
A year later, a Taylor County grand jury decided no charges would be filed. Athletic events were canceled between the two schools.
Burham asked his grandparents to drop the matter and played on the school's basketball team. He was booed by the opposing fans when he touched the ball, Burham recalls. His grandson moved back to Kansas City without finishing the school year and is now studying to be a nurse.
Bobby Burham, who is 72 and lives in Clarinda in Page County, calls Taylor County home to a "bunch of rednecks. People are prejudiced against something they are not."
Sheriff Lonnie Weed disagrees. "Everybody says racial jokes, but nobody holds anything against" people of other races or ethnic origins, he said. He points to the population of Latinos in Lenox.
Weed said he remembers the Burham incident, but it was one of only a couple of racial disturbances in the county.
True integration of rural Iowa, however, will take effort and determination.
Eric Knoth, owner of Dedicated Business Solutions in New Market, said he knew about the ordinance and has seen how small towns nurture their prejudices subtly.
"I had one black employee. When he walked in, there were some wide eyes around here," he said. "But all my top managers are women. I'm from California. I don't care if they're green."
Loewen said there's no reason black people shouldn't live in former sundown towns today, despite tough economic times.
"People will move into dying towns, whether for relationships or by happenstance," he said.
To move forward, the rural Midwest will have to put the past behind it with official action, Loewen said.
Sundown towns need to apologize publicly for any racist actions and make reparations if it can be proved that blacks were overtly driven out. Loewen said the federal government should promote integration by ending mortgage interest tax deductions for counties that don't.
"It's a civil rights act that won't cost a dime," he said.http://www.dmregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20...01220302/1001/NEWS01