College - Author 1
College of Architecture and Environmental Design
Department - Author 1
City and Regional Planning Department
Degree Name - Author 1
BS in City and Regional Planning
Dave Amos, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, City and Regional Planning Department
James W. Loewen’s book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, released in 2005, calls out cities across the United States for their historically discriminatory practices of excluding Black and other non-white individuals from living within city borders, either through formal exclusionary policies or informal methods. Cities often enforced this exclusionary practice through violence and intimidation, leading to “all-white” communities throughout the United States. The belief was that these communities should be “sundown” or “sunset” towns, where people of color were not allowed after dark. Loewen’s book and the following movement awakened individuals, companies, and entire cities to take action to acknowledge history and rewrite the future.
Sundown Towns have a long and painful history in the United States, dating back to the late 19th century and persisting well into the 20th century. Cities used these practices to enforce racial segregation and maintain white supremacy. Many cities and communities are actively working to confront and address their pasts and promote racial equity in their present and future. Today, the term Sundown Town describes any community with a history of racial exclusion and discrimination of minority groups especially after sunset. Loewen defined Sundown Towns as an organized jurisdiction that intentionally became “all white” by keeping African Americans or other groups from living there for decades (Loewen, 2018, p. 4).
Sundown Towns in California, like in other states, have a long and painful history of racial exclusion and discrimination. California has a diverse population but a history of discriminatory practices against certain groups, including African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans. In addition, many towns and cities in California had discriminatory practices that kept non-white individuals from living within their borders, either through formal exclusionary policies or informal rules enforced by local police power.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, many towns in California had discriminatory housing covenants that restricted who could own or rent property within their borders. Additionally, many towns had discriminatory zoning laws that restricted the building of homes for non-white individuals.
There are 111 confirmed Sundown Towns in California and at least 10,000 across the United States. Many community organizations across the United States have been working hard at removing racist policies within their cities. However, redlining, racial covenants, and exclusionary zoning are discussed daily in the planning world. City officials often unwritten Sundown Town policies, but the history and trauma people experienced are real.
Cities are places people call home, where people should feel safe and where people can thrive. Unfortunately, the racially exclusionary past of many cities hurts people and hinders their ability to truly call cities home, thrive, and feel safe in their cities. Taking the “acknowledge, amend, and atone approach,” cities can rewrite a better future for their city by admitting the wrongs done in their city and apologizing for what happened. However, impending policies and programs ensure that history never rewrites itself.
Out of the 111 Sundown Towns identified in California, only three have worked to confront and address their pasts and promote racial equity in their present and future. Communities can acknowledge Sundown Towns by adopting Sundown Town resolutions, including diverse perspectives in the city planning and development process, and investing in programs and initiatives that promote equity and inclusion. Zero Californian cities have updated their zoning code, and zero have added policies in their general plan regarding Sundown Towns.
There is more work to be done. When developing resolutions, zoning code updates, and general plan policies, planners must research standards and understand what other jurisdictions are doing. The purpose of a resource guide is to provide planners with this information all in one place.
This resource guide will accomplish six main goals:
1 - Provide historical research on Sundown Towns
2 - Provide a standard procedure for confirming Sundown Towns
3 - Provide jurisdictional comparisons on resolutions, zoning code updates, and general plan updates surrounding Sundown Towns
4- Provide draft resolution “Whereas” clauses with standard language to be used in Sundown Town resolutions across the United States
5 - Discuss typical zoning code updates that need to be made to aid in amending historically racist policies
6 - Provide sample General Plan policies that can be adapted to atone Sundown Towns further
This resource guide will allow cities to acknowledge themselves as Sundown Town through the development of a resolution, amend exclusionary policies through zoning code updates, and atone for their past by updating their general plan goals and programs.