Inspired by Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt’s Mapmaking facilitation, I begin to investigate what philosopher and literary critic Katherine McKittrick calls “Demonic Ground,” the negative space that exists within a marked geography (xxiv). The concept is rooted within the work of Sylvia Wynter, whose essay, “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings,” introduced the construct to analyze the invisible nature of Caliban’s wife within William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (She is mentioned within the dialogue of the play, but she never appears herself as an actor.) Another way to understand “Demonic Ground” is as a study of the “unvisible” (McKittrick 19), a person, place, construct, or object that one is made aware of, but then by some societal/internal psychological mechanism, that person/place/construct/object is forgotten, as if to never have existed. For our purposes here, the unvisible is the construct of the sundown town.
I first learned about sundown towns whenever I was a Freshman in high school. No teacher ever taught me about them (or any of my classmates for that matter). Instead, I learned it from a classmate, who one day in World History class, and asked me, “Hey, Matt, did you know that Granite City used to be a sundown town? My dad told me that a siren would go off around 6 o’clock, and if any black people didn’t leave, they would be beaten.” In retrospect, this conversation seems incredibly random, but its very likely that I would not have learned about the construct until 2015- mind you, that is 3 years after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and 7 years since I graduated high school, when my girlfriend was telling me about a conversation she had with a professor at SIUE, Dr. Anushiya Ramaswamy. Considering both Granite City, where I grew up, and Glen Carbon, a close neighbor to SIUE, both were sundown towns, perhaps this should not be surprising. Personally testimony, of course, can count as weak evidence, but in the act of speaking about this apparent unvisible nature of sundown towns, perhaps I can generate a larger collective of voices to assert my claim.
Sundown towns, according to James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and the research head for an online database I used for my map, can be understood as any place that kept Blacks, Mexicans, Asian Americans, or Jews out from their city through means of “restrictive covenants throughout the town, violence or threats of same, bad behavior by white individuals, an ordinance, realtor steering, bank redlining, or other formal or informal policies.” When constructing my map, I focused upon the larger picture sundown towns occupy within the geography/demonic grounds of Illinois and did not focus on the individual groups who were discriminated against. That is a project for someone else to take up, or for me to undertake another day.
Some basic statistics: using information from the Illinois 2007 census, there are 1,299 municipal governments (cities, villages, and towns) and 102 county governments within the state. Using information Loewen collected and filtered through my map, there are 121 confirmed sundown towns and an additional 198 unconfirmed sundown towns, as well as 1 confirmed sundown county and 6 unconfirmed sundown counties. (Note: what I label as “confirmed” is what Loewen labels as “surely” and what I refer to as “unconfirmed” consists of what Loewen refers to as “possible” and “probable.”) From this information we can conclude the following:
Of the 1,299 municipal governments that existed at the time of the 2007 census, appromixately 9.3% of the entire state consists of confirmed sundown towns, approximately 15.4% makes up the number of unconfirmed sundown towns, and if we are to add both numbers together to garner a possible maximum percentage of historically sundown towns within Illinois, that percentage is approximately 25%. (I used 2007 data only because I had trouble locating what I was wanting in the more recent data- if someone could point me to more updated versions of the statistics I need, that’d be grand.) While individually these percentages make a case as to why the concept of sundown towns is not necessarily within Illinoisan’s vocabulary, the possibility that there could be 1/4 of Illinois’s total cities that have a history of being sundown towns is a startling realization. Furthermore, the data set Loewen has is incomplete, so there is a possibility that these percentages could be even larger.
Some other observations from the map: in regards to confirmed sundown towns, they appear to be spread largely around the southern borders with Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana. From a zoomed out position, they appear to dominate these portions of the map, though of course, there are plenty of towns within these regions that are not recorded as being sundown towns at all. The unconfirmed sundown towns overlap with some of these regions, but it largely spreads upward towards the Northeast, around the Chicago area. This leaves the Northwestern portion of Illinois relatively untouched. This could simply be because missing data or it is possible that the minority groups these sundown towns discriminated against never migrated that far North.
One more observation: many of the places listed as sundown towns, confirmed and unconfirmed, also include some of the largest cities from Illinois, including 2 confirmed cities that are Chicago suburbs. There are also enough unconfirmed city-suburbs that counting them all is a chore in itself- a task for another day perhaps? For Madison County, the county SIUE is located within, East Alton, Granite City, and Glen Carbon are all confirmed sundown towns. Worden, Wood River, Madison, Maryville, Roxana, St. Jacob, and Highland all are unconfirmed sundown towns. Excluding incorporated territories, this means that at the perceived most, 10/26 municipal governments (using data from the county’s website) or 38.6%, of the municipal governments within Madison have a history of being sundown towns. Within this ratio, 4/9ths, or approximately 44.4%, are classified as cities within the county (meaning they have at least 2,500 people living within them [United States Census Bureau]) and 6/17, or approximately 35.3%, of the villages within this county may have this history.
Some questions worth pondering: how does the ratio of confirmed/unconfirmed number of sundown towns within Illinois compare to other states? How many of the towns which Loewen does not have data for also are historical sundown towns, if any? How does the history of these sundown towns reflect within the regional politics? Is there a political reason as to why certain unconfirmed cities are not confirmed as sundown towns? Is there any correlation between municipal governments that are confirmed historical sundown towns/suspected historical sundown towns and educational programs that include content regarding sundown towns within their curriculum? How does population size affect these ratios further?
Works Cited (Unnecessary for an Unconference, I suppose, but still useful):
Loewen, James W. “How to Confirm Sundown Towns.” Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.
—. “Possible Sundown Towns in Illinois.” Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.
McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
United States Census Bureau. “Illinois County Governments.” Census.Gov. 2007. Web. 11 June 2016.
Wynter, Sylvia. “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings: Un/silencing the ‘Demonic Grounds’ of Caliban’s ‘Woman.’” 1990. The Black Feminist Reader. Eds. Joy James and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 109-127. Print.
Madison County Assessment Office. Illinois Madison County.Gov. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.