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California city confronts its racist past, apologizing for 'sundown' laws

By Lila Seidman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES - When Tanita Harris-Ligons moved to Glendale, California, in 2008, she said locals kept asking her where she was visiting from.

"If you're Black, they didn't believe you lived there," she said of the city that was once a bastion for white supremacy groups and a so-called sundown town, where Black people weren't welcome after dark.

About two years later, her son, Jalani, started middle school in the city, and the children began to separate along racial and ethnic lines, Harris-Ligons said. White children sat at one table, Latinos at another and Armenians at still another, she said.

Jalani came to her and said, "There's nowhere for me to sit."

That's when Harris-Ligons decided to found Black in Glendale, "so my children could have a better experience," she said.

The city's racist past has cast a long, dark shadow that Glendale is now taking steps to remedy. It is the first city in California, and just the third in the nation, to pass a resolution apologizing for its history of racial exclusion - an action shepherded by Black in Glendale and other advocacy groups.


Sundown towns kept Black people out by a combination of laws and informal policies, including racist housing covenants and police intimidation, said James Loewen, a sociologist and leading scholar on the subject. Sometimes municipalities took aim at other communities of color, he added.

The practice - named after signs often posted at the city limits saying that Black people needed to leave by sundown - dates to the late 19th century and spread to the North beginning around 1915, when large numbers of Black Southerners began moving there as part of what's known as the Great Migration.

Despite its progressive reputation, California has been home to at least 100 such towns, including Glendale, Loewen said. Burbank was also a sundown town, and Pasadena had exclusionary elements, including a segregated pool, according to Los Angeles photographer Candacy Taylor. More than 50 towns in the state "went sundown" by excluding Chinese Americans in the 1870s and 1880s, Loewen said.

Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s - and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in particular - stymied the overt exclusion of Black people in most communities, many places continued to use harassment and other intimidation methods to keep the areas majority white. Some practices employed by sundown towns continue today, including in parts of California, Loewen said.


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