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Honda's All-American Sundown Town

Even before Honda announced Greensburg, Indiana, as the site for its new factory, National Public Radio was on board:  Adam Davidson on "All Things Considered" said Greensburg "could be a movie set for an ideal American small town."  In its announcement, Honda continued the accolade, saying Greensburg provides an "outstanding community of people." 

      Honda left out a key word.  Greensburg is an "outstanding community of white people."  That's because Greensburg is a sundown town -- an all-white town that for decades was that way on purpose.  Sundown towns derive their name from the fact that many of them, including dozens in Indiana, posted signs telling blacks not to "let the sun go down on you" while inside their corporate limits. 

      In 1906, Greensburg's white residents drove out most of its black population.  By 1960, the entire county, which had boasted 164 African American residents in 1890, was down to just three, all female.  In the 2000 census, Greensburg still had only two black or interracial households among 10,260 residents. 

      As I show in my book, Sundown Towns, the only way that a town that large could stay all-white for decade after decade is with enforcement -- formal or informal. 

      While Honda was choosing its site, its executives had to have noticed the racial composition of Greensburg and Decatur County.  Similarly, the management of Krispy Kreme Donuts had to have noticed the racial composition of Effingham, Illinois, in 2002, when it chose that town, 180 miles west of Greensburg, for the factory that now makes most of its donut batter.  Before 1950, Effingham posted the notorious sundown signs, and while they came down by 1960, the town's policy did not change.  African Americans were prohibited beyond the railroad station and bus station. 

      As of 2000, Effingham had 44 African American residents, so perhaps it is putting its sundown past behind it.  One can only hope so, because so far as I can tell, Krispy Kreme has made no attempt to humanize Effingham with regard to race relations.  Hopefully Honda will.  Otherwise, the 2,000 jobs it will bring to Greensburg will be for whites only (and perhaps Mexican Americans). 

      Surely Honda owes the nation -- and not just African Americans -- a statement telling why it chose Greensburg, despite (or because of?) Greensburg's racial past.  Honda should also disclose how it plans to make its workforce look like America while locating in a town that for many decades kept out Afro-America.  And NPR might explain how a sundown town can be an "ideal American small town."