1950’s Sundowning

Page

Police officers routinely drive African-Americans to the outskirts of the city and tell them to leave.

***

In his book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism, historian James Loewen describes the ways many American cities and towns have excluded people of color through violence, threats, formal policies, and informal practices.

One such practice was to require African-Americans to leave town before sunset. If they were found on the streets after sunset, they would be picked up by the police and dropped on the roadside outside of town. Hence the name “sundown towns.”

There is evidence this occurred in Bellingham. For instance, in an interview (below) conducted in 2004, Tut Asmundsen, who served for a time as municipal judge, recalls a conversation 50 years earlier with a police officer who described how he would take Blacks who came to the city to the outskirts of town and let them know that they were not welcome.*

Though it is not clear how early the practice of sundowning started, it continued until the early 1970s. Some long-time residents of Bellingham recall that in the early 1970s a Black military veteran was picked up by a Bellingham police officer and dropped off in the dark at the Skagit County line, where he was struck by a vehicle and killed. The attention this garnered is what ended the practice of sundowning in Bellingham.

If you have additional details about this event, including newspaper coverage of it, or if you have other evidence of sundowning in Bellingham, please share this by contacting us at Bellingham.Racial.History@gmail.com.

* The embedded video above was recorded on 10 June 2004, is excerpted from the Bellingham Centennial Oral History Project records, Series 2: Video Oral Histories 2003-2005 box 2 folder 5. It is in the collection of the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Libraries Heritage Resources, Western Washington University.