1950’s Sundowning

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

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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.*

It is not clear how early the practice of sundowning started in Bellingham, or how long it continued. Some long-time residents suggest it continued until the late 1960s or early 1970s, though evidence has been difficult to find. If you have information about this please share it 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.