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In American society, the topic of race is charged with hundreds of years of prejudice, violence, and systemic inequality.

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Towns like Utica, Ohio, and Goshen, Ind. These 'sundown towns' were places where, black Americans knew, they were not welcome once the sun went down.

This city is a multiracial mecca

March 27, The question was perhaps innocent. Cooper, who is African-American. The racial journey of the South is well known, and at a time of heightened racial tensions nationwide, that past has again become present. But less known are the stories of Utica, and Goshen, Ind. These towns are only now beginning to come to terms with a legacy of racism that has largely evaded history books. In others, such as Pierce City, Mo. In sundown towns across the Midwest, black Americans were denied housing, persecuted, or violently evicted during a period from the s to the s, leaving a homogeneity that has defined the towns for much of the past century.

As the stories of the past have slowly come to light, towns have struggled with how to respond; only one has gone so far as to pass a city council resolution acknowledging and condemning what happened — a document that required 31 drafts. But, in many ways, the past remains present here, too. Research by a University of Kansas professor suggests that former sundown towns played a decisive role in tilting the state of Wisconsin to Donald Trump. More broadly, historians say that sundown towns have left a distorted sense of racial awareness across swaths of the rural Midwest, in which white people do not see the lack of people of color as a problem, while African Americans say race rules their lives — shaping how they travel and where they live.

I feel like Tom Hanks and all I got is my volleyball. The very concept of sundown towns is debated.

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The historian who has looked deepest into the phenomenon, James Loewen, contends that there were once thousands stretching from coast to coast. Critics of his work say he relies too much on oral history. For example, historians in Murray, Utah — named as a sundown town by Mr. Loewen — point to ample evidence of prejudice but no that the town systematically forced out black residents.

One way to frame the sundown definition is that a sundown town was a place where black people knew they were not welcome. Researchers working with Loewen uncovered oral histories that made it clear that African-Americans knew it was not a good idea to drive there.

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Utica has a complicated racial history, often diffused by the mist of memory. On one hand, it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. On the other, locals remember the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross on a hill just outside of town in the s.

Some locals claim there once was a on either end of town warning black people to leave by sundown. In Septemberletters were sent to Utica High School and the school district office threatening violence because of interracial dating. The letters had images of the Confederate battle flag. Chris Cooper took the threat personally.

The letters were targeting black people. After the letters, Cooper pulled his son out of the Utica schools and sent him to a more racially diverse school in Newark, a larger town down the road. Most people in town who know him are kind to him, Cooper says. He is friends with a few of his neighbors, is involved with a local service club, and has coached peewee football. This is my block. When she conducted research in white communities, few white people would talk about race.

But when she interviewed people in mostly black neighborhoods, race was a central concern for them. It waswhen Dan Shenk of Goshen, Ind. Nationalities are There is no negro population. Bythere were only two. Twenty years later, there were three. So Mr. Shenk wrote about that history in an article for the Mennonite World Review.

This city is a multiracial mecca

Goshen, a town of 32, is home to 93 churches — 27 of which are Mennonite or Brethren — as well as Goshen College, a Mennonite liberal arts college. Goshen remains the only sundown town to pass such a resolution. Shenk also approached Lee Roy Berry Jr. In Goshen, Mr. Berry has now lived in that house for 43 years. The document Berry and Shenk produced went through 31 drafts with input from a wide spectrum of the community.

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It was wrong. Shenk says it was like drawing a line in the sand for the community. Berry is a bit more measured. He thinks the resolution just begins to address a complex history. But Berry says he was also overjoyed. For Robert Hunt, an African-American pastor from nearby Elkhart who remembers being told by his parents not to get caught in Goshen after dark, the resolution shows how much Goshen has changed. It happened. And it will never happen again. Getting other towns to take the steps Goshen did can be hard. Susan Glisson has worked for more than 20 years to promote more open conversations about the history of racism in America, first with the William Winter Institute at the University of Mississippi and now as a consultant for Sustainable Equity.

At one team-building workshop for an undisclosed company, a participant was confused that a woman from Mississippi was running a workshop in the Midwest. Glisson, referencing the South. So Glisson shared the history of sundown towns in the Midwest.

'sundown towns': midwest confronts its complicated racial legacy

Until that moment, they had never heard the term or the history. But Mr. Once a diverse town of 10 percent African-Americans, Pierce City changed. Sometimes, they are alone, but more often than not, he says, there are others who also wish to honor the dead. It begins with self-reflection about who we are and the values we hold. Already a subscriber? Monitor journalism changes lives because we open that too-small box that most people think they live in. We believe news can and should expand a sense of identity and possibility beyond narrow conventional expectations.

'sundown towns': midwest confronts its complicated racial legacy

My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. But you know what? We change lives.

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