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Sundown Towns In America Essay

2470 words - 10 pages

On December 6, 1865 the thirteenth amendment to the United States constitution was ratified (Archives). This amendment effectively abolished slavery with the exception of a punishment for a crime (Archives). This was a great victory for blacks who had been the preferred target for slaves. For many however the passage of the amendment failed to change the attitudes of white Americans. Blacks were clearly not welcome in many cities across the nation, laws allowing blacks to work within a city’s limits, but requiring them to leave before sundown. We will review what a Sundown Town was; why they were created; how they were created; and how they were desegregated.
When I first heard the term sundown town I had no idea what it meant. I interviewed my parents (Schmitz) who were married in the 50’s. Neither of them could recall hearing the term sundown town at any time between the fifties and the seventies. My father did remember hearing stories about how blacks were not allowed in some cities, but neither of them had experienced any encounters personally. When I was a sophomore in high school the first black family moved into a house just outside of Plymouth, where I grew up, and I recall my parents telling us that we should “stay away from their kind”, as a teenager I did not pay much attention, the children were younger than I was, I certainly did not have any reason to seek them out, so I didn’t. I do always remember that conversation with my parents, mostly because I did not quite understand why we should stay away from them. After graduation I moved to Appleton to attend school, this was my first personal experience with a person of color. One of my classmates happened to be black, his name was Mikel and we became friends, I would not say we were close friends but I did not treat him any differently than any other of my classmates. Mikel did not return to school the second year after the summer break. When I heard the term sundown town, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about them.
What exactly is a sundown town? To understand we need to go back in history to the mid 1800’s. The Emancipation Proclamation was drafted by Lincoln declared all salves free. "And, by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages (Connors)”. While many blacks were celebrating their freedom, they had little idea how much of an uphill battle they were about to embark on. It took years for the news to filter down...

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