What is a real redneck town

The no-go areas of the USA

A more nuanced history of racial integration in the United States

The traditional story goes like this: When the New World was conquered, enslaved Africans were shipped there. In 1808 the importation of slaves was banned in the USA, i.e. the slave owners had to "breed" new slaves from then on - and if necessary lend a hand. In 1863 the Republican President Lincoln freed the slaves in the as yet unconquered southern states (i.e. where he was not in charge). The northern states, which had not yet banned slavery, are allowed to keep their slaves for two years until the end of the war in 1865. The “Great Migration” began around 1916: Blacks left the racist south to find their salvation in the north and west of the USA. Then, in the mid-1950s, the civil rights movement in the south finally took off, and since then the US has had two blacks in a row in the constitutional court and as foreign minister - 3 of the 4 appointed by Republicans. So over time everything gets slowly but steadily better. Everything is clear, but: Why do the blacks vote democratically today?

The people in the north and western of the USA consider themselves less racist than the southerners. That became clear about a year ago with the flood in New Orleans: Everyone saw that the whites had abandoned the blacks - typically southern states. The Süddeutsche Zeitung says:

At some point they came and threw water bottles over the fence, like you feed the monkeys in the zoo. It was whites, all whites, police from Jefferson Parish, the suburb to the west of New Orleans, who guarded them. And behind the fence sat blacks, all blacks from the lost poor neighborhoods in the east of the city.

In a radio interview with Deutsche Welle shortly after the disaster, I spoke to the German correspondent in Washington, who said the treatment of blacks was typical of the "white trash" in the south - as if something like this couldn't happen in the north. He didn't have to look far to find that some people in the north had located the blame on the blacks themselves - for example, the journalist Steve Sailer from Chicago, who said shortly after Katrina, among other things:

In contrast to New Orleans, there was only a few looting after the terrible earthquake in Kobe / Japan in 1995 - after all, the Japanese are not black.

So I was all the more astonished when, a few days after Sailer's profound discovery, I received the following private message from a black colleague by email - from Chicago of all places:

Racist mother fuckers to the south! - pls send your unwanted "Niggers" (living and dead) to Chicago, Detroit, etc. --We'll take them, and you can keep the South - just as long as you GO there and leave us the fuck alone.

It would be nice…

... if the blacks in the southern states could go somewhere where they would no longer be exposed to the racism of conceited whites - the rest of the USA unfortunately offers no such refuge. After their "great migration" northwards, the blacks were often bitterly disappointed. In his Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 John Barry describes how many blacks from Mississippi moved to Kansas, and states succinctly: "Kansas has turned out not to be the promised land", which is why emigration there weakened. The north and west did not try to do anything better than the south, but only downplayed the disappointment of blacks, as I described in Self Is Justice.

Why isn't it better outside of the southern states? One evening around 1990, a black friend from New Orleans told me about his brother who was a doctor in Boston. I wanted to know why his brother didn't like it there:

He feels left out. Nobody invites him to dinner. Boston is only 1/4 black, while New Orleans is 2/3. Even if it's not exactly ideal here: It's our city. In Boston, on the other hand, he is lonely among whites who ignore him in a friendly but distant manner.

Oral history

Such anecdotes are provided by James W. Loewen, author of Read my teacher told me: everything your American history textbook got wrong, in its 2005 published Sundown Towns: a hidden dimension of American racism. Although Loewen has enough written evidence for his theses in old newspapers, in photos and in archived documents, he often brings them to life with statements from people he has interviewed personally at gas stations, in libraries and on the street. It is a relatively new kind of historiography, also in Germany under the term oral history is practiced. Through this orally transmitted story (according to the representatives of this methodology) the oppressed would finally have their say - after all, history books are written by the winners.

A sundown town is a town that was small enough to be "kept white". The name comes from the fact that many of these villages put up a sign at the entrance to the village, stating that blacks were not welcome after sunset. Typical examples:

  1. Nigger, don't let the sun go down on you in [place name]
  2. Nigger, if you can read these lines, get out of here. And if you can't read, leave anyway.
  3. "Nigger! This is Shepherdstown. God help you if the sun ever sets on you here." (Example from Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Breakfast of Champions" - Vonnegut comes from Indiana, where, according to Loewen, Sundown Towns were common)
  4. "Whites only within city limits after dark" - the only street sign that Loewen reprints as a photo; it is from Connecticut.

That said, blacks might be able to work in Sundown Towns for once, but they had to be gone by sunset at the latest - so they couldn't live there. According to Loewen, such street signs were nothing out of the ordinary until the 1960s and in some places were still on the outskirts of the city even into the 1990s. The fact that he can only show one picture of such a sign is due to the fact that the evidence was destroyed by the council houses and other local authorities over time ("Who would want to keep something like that?" Explains a librarian). The whites in the north and west wanted to be among themselves, but not to be associated with their own attitudes. Racism in the south is not considered open for nothing, while whites outside the south often look down on the backward "rednecks" without wanting to share their own school and neighborhood with blacks.

In "The votes that really count have not yet been cast" I mentioned the saying from the southern states: "The north loves the race and hates the individual; the south loves the individual and hates the race". But before you think the saying is a complete exaggeration by whites and would rather have it from a black man from the time - how about a quote from Robert Moton:

Whatever might be said to the contrary, the white man of the South loves the Negro. Many who have gone to the North have not found conditions as they had expected.

All of this is scandalous enough, but the real challenges that Loewen poses to conventional historiography are as follows:

  1. These Sundown Towns were rarely found in the south, but almost everywhere in the north and west. In the state of Mississippi, for example, Loewen couldn't find a Sundown Town at all, in Illinois, however, almost 450 - and he suspected many more. Outside of the southern states, he sums up on page 4, most of the incorporated towns have probably not admitted any blacks.
  2. From around 1890 the Sundown Towns shot up like mushrooms outside of the southern states, that is, after a few decades of progress in racial equality, there was a big setback, so that - according to Loewen - today in some respects blacks are even worse than they are 1870s and 1880s, especially when it comes to integration (In some ways, African Americans lived in better and more integrated conditions in the 1870s and 1880s).

Why not in the south?

First of all, one has to say in advance that "the south" here means a cultural unit, ie California and Arizona are geographically in the south, but culturally the south consists more of the states that have rebelled - although today there is still a tendency to For various reasons Florida and Texas are no longer part of the south (Passau is also not an "East German city").

While there were relatively few blacks in the north and west of the USA around 1860, black and white have always lived close together in the southern states: Blacks served in their master’s house on plantations - if they were lucky - or toiled in the fields when they were unlucky. In general, they did the dirty work in the south and were therefore quite welcome in certain but everyday situations. Loewen even reports that the southerners did not understand this policy of the Sundown Towns at all when they arrived in a strange place and could not find any black people, for example to shine their shoes. White southerners treated blacks like dogs that must be properly chastised; but then you like to "hold" it. Other white Americans treated them more like wild animals that should just live elsewhere.

Immediately after the civil war of 1861-1865, the state of Mississippi issued the notorious "Black Codes" in order to keep the slaves that had just been freed in check - for example, it was made difficult for them to own land, to choose, or to open a shop. But lo and behold: The south did not invent this nasty idea, as the German Wikipedia still misleadingly claims (in the English-language Wikipedia, on the other hand, the description is correct), but copied it: Ohio passed its first Black Laws in 1804 and other states in the Midwest followed. They had already committed themselves to forbid slavery in 1787, but these (still) territories did not want to be misunderstood as a refuge for all the slaves in the south. After all, they had only spoken out pro forma against slavery because it gave them a better chance of being accepted into the Union. And these territories repeatedly tried - looking enviously at the southern states - to break this agreement with Washington after all.

After Illinois became a state in 1818, it immediately proclaimed that slavery in the south was a good thing - and that it should not be lined up by the Illinois abolitionists. As early as 1813, Lincoln's home town of Illinois (still as a territory) had decided that all blacks who stayed there longer than 15 days would have to be flogged (you can read here that Lincoln was not about the liberation of slaves during the Civil War either) .

Unfortunately, it was hardly worth it for blacks to flee further than Illinois, because even Oregon had decided in its Lash Law in 1844 that if a black man were wrong there, he was welcome to stay, but he had to be flogged every six months. The Frenchman De Tocqueville, as is well known, traveled to the USA in the 19th century and left an impressive description of this world in his writing De la democracy in America. He too saw the race question between North and South more differently (English edition):

The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.

Separately but the same

One begins to suspect why the "Great Migration" from the south did not begin until the 20th century and not immediately in 1865. While the north and west weren't exactly tempting, things didn't look so bad in the south at first. In 1867 Mississippi was forced by the federal government to give up its black codes (Illinois and Co. also had to repeal their even older codes, as a good example). Then Mississippi became exactly what states like Oregon and Illinois feared: a refuge for black liberation. With so many blacks living there, Mississippi suddenly sent two black senators to Washington. No other state - anywhere - had a black senator at the time.

Is everything better now? Well, today's black Senator Barack Obama from Illinois is only the fifth in US history. And as this list shows, before 1901 there were only black MPs from the southern states. After 1901 there was suddenly no radio broadcast until 1929.

Why this hole? The enlightened whites in the USA will have thought to themselves that things could not go on in Mississippi, and so the South was allowed to enact its Jim Crow Laws from around 1876 in order to restore the old order to some extent. The solution: two societies, one for blacks one for whites, separate, but equal - but what in this context meant: actually overlapping, but completely unequal.

The rest of the United States let the South go in its bid to keep blacks in check, fearing equal demands from the few blacks at home. In 1896 the New Orleanian Homer Plessy failed before the US Constitutional Court. The free person of color from the Faubourg Tremé (where many of the people stranded in the Superdome after Katrina lived) sued separate but equal - and lost. The first civil rights movement from the south failed before it began because the federal government did not go along with it (in contrast to 1954 in Alabama).

The setback

So a huge opportunity was missed after 1890. After noticeable advances in the 1870s and 1880s, according to Loewen, the backlash from 1890. Loewen explains that due to the lack of a noteworthy black population, the north and west did not have to build a separate but overlapping society as in the south; the blacks could be completely isolated from the start.

The purge often began with a major act of violence - for example in 1908 in Springfield, Illinois, the hometown of President Lincoln. In a kind of Reichskristallnacht that lasted two days, entire neighborhoods were ravaged by a lynch mob and innocent people were murdered after several black people had allegedly committed crimes. But at least: After that, Springfield was rid of its few blacks.

Springfield was no exception: the same thing happened in Joplin, Missouri in 1903 - which is only 1.5% black today. These examples are only representative of an apparently infinite number, and no one was more surprised by the frequency of the Sundown Towns than lions themselves.

Mostly, however, it was not cities like Joplin, East St. Louis, Denver, Seattle, Tulsa, Lincoln (Nebraska), Johnstown (Pennsylvania) and many more that forcibly removed their blacks (or immigrants) because - according to Loewen - these The task would have been too big in the cities. In Tulsa, a black neighborhood was apparently attacked from the air in 1921 - a very "progressive" method at the time. Smaller towns that didn't have to be so resourceful were more successful. Loewen makes an example out of little Anna / Illinois, population 5.136 in 2000.

Loewen was born in Illinois himself, which is why Illinois plays a central role in his book. Another reason: Illinois seems to have had a particularly large number of Sundown Towns. The place was named Anna after Anna Pelley, who was allegedly murdered by a black man in neighboring Cairo / Illinois in 1909, but a few years ago the residents of Anna kept telling Loewen that the name of the place has been an acronym since then: Ain't No Niggers Allowed. In Cairo a black man was lynched for the murder of Anna, and afterwards the whites also expelled all blacks from Anna - better safe than sorry. Today Anna is 1.7% black.

So although Americans learn that between 1865 (end of the Civil War) and 1964 (enactment of the Civil Rights Act) the race relations became better and better, Loewen shows a more nuanced picture. The republicans in the north and west were theoretical opponents of slavery, but when it came down to practically including them as neighbors, they often forcibly expelled blacks until well into the 1930s.

Post-civil war progress was quickly wiped out. From Portland, Oregon (1922) to Portland, Maine (1923), the Klu Klux Klan managed to elect their people to town hall. In 1925, a Colorado judge wrote to LeRoy Percy, a Mississippi plantation owner fighting the Klan in his area of ​​influence, "I don't think the Klan has ever won as many elections in southern history as it does in Colorado" (Barry, p 155).

The civil service - including the military - had already been partially integrated by 1900, but President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) put an end to it in 1913 when he separate but equal rigorously enforced in the post office, in the military, etc. In this context he is often portrayed as a southerner (because he was born in Virginia); most of the time it is not mentioned that he was the governor of New Jersey when he was elected president.

At the beginning of the 20th century, integration was reversed everywhere after the civil war.It wasn't until 1933 that blacks had to leave the National Football League. In 1887 there were the highest number of black professionals in baseball, although in 1868 the league officially excluded blacks. By 1920, however, it had become so difficult to circumvent this regulation that the Negro National League was founded. It was only then that baseball was racially segregated in practice.

In the Wild West, entire cities were built "white" from the start. Boulder City in Nevada was built as a town for the workers at Hoover Dam; all workers were white at the beginning, and according to Loewen, the blacks had to commute later. Today Boulder City is 95% white.

Do you prefer hypocrisy - or honest bigotism?

But over time, racism had to be subdued and sublimated. Just as the North had to be a role model for the South in abolishing the Black Codes, it did not make sense even to the Americans why they should believe in a master race after they themselves had to eradicate the offspring of this ideology in Europe. The big cities in the north showed what the future would look like even before the Second World War: they leave the city center to the blacks and build suburbs, suburbsthat are not incorporated so that the rich on the outskirts do not have to spend their tax money on the blacks.

In a way, ironically, this is a reversal of the Sundown Towns: where blacks used to have to leave the city under duress, now whites leave the city voluntarily. At the same time, the old honesty of the southern states, where a white man never had to hide his or her racism, is dying out - but when a white southerner stood up for blacks, he meant his neighbors, and he meant it, because the changes he advocated , would hit his life. At least that way you knew where to turn with a southerner.

Up to 95% of the blacks voted republican until the great migration. But when they came more and more into contact with whites in the north and west, the facade crumbled. The big turning point came under President Herbert Hoover (1929-1932), because he had made promises to prominent blacks like Moton in order to win the elections. As soon as he was in office, however, he turned the Grand Old Party into a decent white party. Moton felt betrayed and no longer supported him against Roosevelt in 1932.

Today there is more of a hypocritical coexistence between black and white than openness - even in the south. The suburbs make it possible. In the next post we will look at the example of Chicago and Detroit in the north and New Orleans in the south to see how the suburbs have influenced the coexistence of black and white. (Craig Morris)

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