James Loewen: Article on HNN stirs up hornet's nest in Indiana

Historians in the News

With the announcement that Honda would build a major automobile manufacturing plant near Greensburg, national attention was focused on the southern Indiana town.

Nearly all of it was positive. A reporter for"All Things Considered" on National Public Radio even said Greensburg" could be a movie set for an ideal American small town." Honda labeled the Decatur County seat an"outstanding community of people."

Sociologist James W. Loewen would edit that statement slightly. Writing on a Web site called the History News Network, Loewen cited the examples above and wrote that Greensburg would more accurately be described as an"outstanding community of white people."

Loewen is the author of"Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism." And he includes Greensburg among at least 100 Indiana cities or towns he'd call a confirmed sundown town.

Loewen defines a sundown town as a community of more than 1,000 people that has historically excluded blacks to the extent that less than 0.1 percent of the population is African-American. The term comes from the real or apocryphal ordinances or signs that supposedly warned blacks not to let the sun go down on them inside the city limits.

Loewen is an Illinois native who taught sociology at the University of Vermont until he wrote the book that is believed to be the best-selling book by any living sociologist:"Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong." He now lives in Washington, D.C., and writes books.

He began his research on his native state and was stunned at what he found.

"I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois and maybe as many as 50. To my astonishment, I documented 472 sundown towns in Illinois alone," he said on Monday.

Loewen has not completed his count on Indiana sundown towns, but shared his working list of suspected and confirmed municipalities. Bloomfield, Dugger, Mooresville, Oolitic, Orleans, Paoli, Spencer and Worthington are among the towns near Bloomington to make the list.

"Martinsville obviously is the one Indiana town that stands out when anyone talks about racism in Indiana," he said. The sociologist hastened to add, however, that just because a town is a sundown town, it doesn't mean that everyone who was born there or lives there is racist....

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