Sundown Towns Still Exist in the U.S.

Are there currently sundown towns in the U.S.? Some may say they are a thing of the past. Here's where they are and what to do if you can't avoid them.

Kori Williams - Author

Apr. 28 2022, Published 2:48 p.m. ET

A Sunset
Source: Getty Images

A sunset over a farmhouse

Although several people might believe that racism in the U.S. is a thing of the past, for many people of color, that couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, racism has just been rebranded to become more socially acceptable and covert. And Black Americans in particular have a unique relationship to the prejudices in this country today.

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Take the U.S.'s sundown towns. These are areas across the country that prohibit Black people from being in public after the sun sets. These towns still exist, even if some of the area's residents refuse to believe they do. Here are the sundown towns we currently know of in America.

Where are the current sundown towns in the U.S.?

What's considered a sundown town might vary depending on who you speak to, but Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss. has created a database of sundown towns on its History and Social Justice website.

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The sundown town database is an interactive map where you can select any state and see a list of all its possible current and historic sundown towns. On another map, dots help users understand whether an area is a sundown town, with a legend that includes "don't know," "surely," "unlikely/always biracial," and "Black town or township."

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Over the years, a number of different news outlets have openly named areas of the U.S. sundown towns. NPR has spoken about the "racial cleansing" that took place in the early 1900s in Forsyth County, Ga., which still affects the area today. There's also Anna, Ill. which has gotten the nickname "Ain't No [n-word]s Allowed," according to ProPublica.

Many people are also calling out sundown towns on social media after a video went viral of a white high school student saying the n-word. People responded by saying that this happened in Vidor, Texas, a sundown town.

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What is a sundown town?

As stated earlier, a sundown town (also known as a gray town) is an area in the U.S. where Black people are essentially forced out of the public once the sun goes down. According to AP News, these towns are inhabited by a majority of white people who insist that "Black and white residents get along really well."

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When speaking to white residents of Vienna, Ill., AP News noted that they didn't feel like racism was a problem in the area — either at the time or historically. However, speaking to Black people who lived in or regularly visited Vienna showed a different reality.

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"Every time you come into town, or you go into a gas station, or in a store, people look at you," Victoria Vaughn explained to AP News. Although no one in the area has ever said anything to her that she considers racist, she said she "definitely felt the way they felt about me."

Meanwhile, a Black man named James Davis said that he was taught about sundown towns growing up, an experience that a majority of white people may not have had.

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If you're a Black traveler, take these precautions.

In an effort to help others avoid sundown towns or better prepare them to travel through one, Black people created their own helpful resources. The Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo Green (which was also known by other names, including The Green Book), for example, was published in the 1930s as a guide to different sundown towns across the country so that other Black people could plan their trips accordingly.

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If you're a Black person who can't altogether avoid sundown towns, there are other precautions you can take while in those areas. These include locking your car doors and making sure you won't need gas or any kind of assistance. Some people avoid public transportation even during the day while in sundown towns and make sure they have access to a car at all times when traveling.

If you have to stop in a sundown town, try and speak to Black locals to get a better understanding of how to navigate it. These people have first-hand knowledge you may never otherwise get access to and can help you out of tough situations.

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