James Loewen shedding light on ‘sundown towns’

Historians in the News

When Principia College came to Elsah in the 1930s and wanted to house its black cooks in the village, local officials would not allow it, apparently adhering to an unwritten rule.

At least one eyewitness, a longtime resident of the village, has confirmed that the alleged tradition was that no black person could remain in the village after dark, let alone overnight.

In connection with this local history, expert and author James Loewen will make an appearance at Principia this week to speak about "sundown towns."

"When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois and perhaps 50 across the country," Loewen, who calls Illinois home, said in a news release. "Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States."

Loewen has marked Elsah as possibly having been one.

Among others alleged to have sundown laws, according to Loewen's Web site at www.uvm.edu/~jloewen/sundowntownsshow.php?id=1608, are East Alton, Glen Carbon, Granite City and Wood River.

The eyewitness, who preferred that his name not be used, traces the Principia story back to the 1930s but has no more recent accounts of a sundown rule in Elsah. He said that to his knowledge, the village's rule was followed but never written into law.
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