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Yes, Sundown Towns Are Still A Problem For Black Travelers In The United States
The extensive research revealed that at least 60 of Kentucky’s 782 towns are considered sundown towns. But contrary to popular belief, this phenomenon doesn’t just exist in the American South. In fact, all 50 states have at least one town that falls under this category. What’s more, most of today’s sundown towns are located in the Midwest.
Prior to this current study, though, there were signs that there was trouble brewing for Black travelers.
In 2017, the NAACP issued a travel warning for the entire state of Missouri — the first time the entire state had been issued such a warning. That same travel warning was issued in 2020 for San Antonio, TX, by the Defund San Antonio Police Department Coalition, who also labeled the Texas city a sundown town.
The NAACP also revealed that Black drivers are 75 percent more likely to be “stopped and searched” by law enforcement than their white counterparts. (Did we really need research to prove this?) And the hashtag #DrivingWhileBlack on Twitter reveals frontline anecdotal stories about the horrors of traveling while Black, especially through suspected sundown towns.
In his groundbreaking book, James Leowen said that the biggest mistake that Black travelers can make is assuming that their sole issues exist in the American South, or that the concept of a sundown town is a relic of the past.
“There are five Hollywood movies about sundown towns and all of them are set in Mississippi, except one that’s out in Georgia. It sets us back in race relations because the whole rest of the country is like, Yeah, we’re all right. This is a good country. Everything’s fine except those nasty white Southerners with all them sundown towns, and they used to have slavery and all that. It’s a national problem. It’s more a Midwest problem than it is a Southern problem,” he said.
He also added that Black travelers should check the only sundown town registry that shows which towns qualify as “sundown,” and to bear in mind that until the American government actually does something about it (don’t hold your breath), they will continue to be a problem.
So, vigilance in travel, above all else, is key.