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Sundown towns: Uncovering Colorado's dark past, dangers for Black people staying out after sunset

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Posted at 8:10 AM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 07:45:59-05

Throughout the 1900s, thousands of cities across America banned Black people from becoming residents or even being within city limits after dark. These cities were called “sundown towns” and several could be found throughout the state of Colorado.

“We don’t necessarily have a complete record of all the sundown towns in Colorado. There are a few that posted banners or posted signs to make sure that people knew,” said Black American West Museum Volunteer Terri Gentry.

Gentry said for Blacks who found themselves in a sundown town after dark, the danger was immense.

“You could either be harmed, you could be forced out of town, you could be killed — quite a few scary things happened,” Gentry said.

Sundown towns were not a southern invention, according to James Loewen, sociologist and author of “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.” Loewen said most can be found in the North, Midwest, and the West.

Several of these cities have been identified in Colorado.

“Louisville, Golden, and parts of Colorado Springs where there was a lot of KKK activity,” Gentry said.

Gentry said Loveland is also considered a sundown town.

A Loveland Reporter-Herald article reveals in the early 1900s, Loveland neighborhoods and HOAs (homeowner associations) prevented anyone of color from buying a house there.

The article claims at that time, Loveland had a large sign that read, "Welcome to Loveland, nationally famous sweetheart town." But there was allegedly also a smaller sign underneath that read “We observe Jim Crow laws here.”

Loewen, who has a website dedicated to identifying and researching sundown towns, also has Cherry Hills Village listed as a sundown town within his data base.

Loewen said most people are surprised to learn just how few sundown towns are located in South, and that thousands are located in the North and West.

“We have a situation here where our culture as expressed in Hollywood, and to some extent in other media, puts this racism in the South where it isn’t. This is the one form of severe racism that the traditional south did not do, but it’s all across the North,” Loewen said. “There were a lot of suburbs that were sundown towns and most suburbs, about 70% to 80% of the suburbs of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit, were sundown towns.”

Loewen said that’s why we still have cities across the country and in Colorado that have virtually no residents of color.

“But I have to say that most towns, and I suspect almost all former sundown towns in Colorado, have given up the practice,” Loewen said.

But Loewen said we still feel the implications today.

“What we have to watch for now is what we call second-generation sundown town issues. For example, an overwhelming white police force that still practices DWB policing — driving while black. An overwhelming white teaching staff that doesn’t have much of an interracial curriculum to teach either,” Loewen said.

Loewen said there’s hope for sundown towns, but communities must step into the light and acknowledge their dark histories.