In Wake of Floyd Death, Rural, White Southern Illinois Towns are Reckoning With Racist PastHistorians in the News
tags: racism, sundown towns, Midwest
What seems to distinguish this moment’s push for racial justice in Southern Illinois is the number of gatherings that are taking place beyond the borders of the liberal-leaning university town. Familiar rally chants of “I can’t breathe,” “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter” have also been ringing out in small, conservative Southern Illinois towns like Benton and Anna, which are overwhelmingly white by historical design, and have remained stubbornly racially homogeneous for generations.
“I came to Carbondale as an SIU student in 1972,” said Carl Flowers, who is African American and a retired Southern Illinois University professor and administrator. “To see that there was a rally for the Black Lives Matter in Anna — that is one that I would have never suspected would ever, ever occur.” Anna’s rally, organized by young adults in Union County, drew about 200 people on Thursday.
In recent days, people have also gathered in Marion, Herrin, Carterville, Sparta, Murphysboro, Du Quoin and Mounds. Mounds is a predominately African American community in Pulaski County, but the other towns are majority white.
Some of these communities — Benton, Herrin, Carterville, Anna — were “sundown towns” where, by official policy, black people were not allowed after dark into at least the 1960s in some cases, according to research by James W. Loewen, author of the book “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.”
Though named for the town’s founder, a century or so ago, Anna became ANNA — an unofficial acronym for Ain’t No N------ Allowed, a clear message to African Americans that they weren’t welcome. In 1925, a funeral held for a Williamson County KKK leader and federal prohibition agent drew 15,000 people to Herrin, most dressed in full Klan regalia. For a period of time during this era, Carterville excluded black people from its city limits entirely — day or night. The KKK had a significant presence in Benton into at least the 1950s, according to Loewen’s research.
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