Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Music with a message

Robert Johnson's great blues tune, Crossroads (also known as Cross Road Blues):

H/t Bernard Chazelle at A Tiny Revolution. Some words:
I went down to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, save poor Bob, if you please."

Mmmmm, standin' at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride
Standin' at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by

Mmm, the sun goin' down, boy, dark gon' catch me here
oooo, ooee, eee boy, dark gon' catch me here.

I haven't got no lovin' sweet woman that love and feel my care

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.
You can run, tell my friend-boy, Willie Brown.
Lord, that I'm standin' at the crossroad, babe,
I believe I'm sinking down.

Powerful stuff, and yeah, the polyrhythm stuff is pretty fascinating in its own right. Bernard goes on to discuss the prevalence of sundown towns in Johnson's day (although much more prevalent outside of the southern US than in the south itself). David Neiwert has written quite a bit about sundown towns at Orcinus, as has his blogging partner in crime, Sara. Both draw heavily from the research of James Loewen, who has a section of his site devoted to the phenomenon of sundown towns. Here's Neiwert quoting Loewen:
What exactly is a "sundown town"? Loewen defines the term [pp. 28-30] thus:
A sundown town is any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus "all white" on purpose.

... Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. ... Other towns passed ordinances barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property; still others established such policies by informal means, harassing and even killing those who violated the rule. Some sundown towns similarly kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, or other groups.

Independent sundown towns range from tiny hamlets such as DeLand, Illinois (population 500) to substantial cities such as Appleton, Wisconsin (57,000 in 1970). Sometimes entire counties went sundown, usually when their county seat did. Independent sundown towns were soon joined by "sundown suburbs," which could be even larger: Levittown, on Long Island, had 82,000 residents in 1970, while Livonia, Michigan, and Parma, Ohio, had more than 100,000. Warren, a suburb of Detroit, had a population of 180,000 including just 28 minority families, most of whom lived on a U.S. Army facility.

Outside the traditional South ... probably a majority of all incorporated places kept out African Americans.
Moreover, as he details, the appearance of sundown towns occurred in every region, every state:
There is reason to believed that more than half of all towns in Oregon, Indiana, Ohio, the Cumberlands, the Ozarks, and diverse other areas were also all-white on purpose. Sundown suburbs are found from Darien, Connecticut, to La Jolla, California, and are even more prevalent; indeed, most suburbs began life as sundown towns.
These towns formed neither naturally nor accidentally, but emerged well after the Civil War as the embodiment of emerging white supremacist beliefs, particularly eugenicist notions about the evils of "race mixing" and the innate inferiority of nonwhite races.
As one continues to read, Bernard Chazelle's quip that today we call sundown towns "exurbs" is not mere snark. A blogger who runs BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS, earlier this year listed a number of communities which are apparently still sundown towns (h/t Siditty):

Sundown Towns still exist all across America in the 21ST Century:

-Towns County, Georgia

-Deer Park, Washington

-Anna-Jonesboro, Illinois

-Vienna, Illinois

-Marion, Ohio

-Elwood, Indiana

-Owosso, Michigan

-Lamar, Missouri

-Vidor, Texas

-Berwyn, Illinois

-Cut and Shoot, Texas

-Ironwood, Michigan

Sundown suburbs:

-Levittown, Long Island, New York (now called Willingboro)

-Livonia, Michigan

-Parma, Ohio

-Cicero, Chicago, Illinois

-Darien, Connecticutt

-Naperville, Illinois

-Edina, Minnesota

The whole post is worth reading. Even in my corner of the world, there may well have been (and perhaps continue to be) sundown towns, including Boise City and Hooker. About Oklahoma in general, Loewen writes:
In the 1870s and 80s, many African Americans fled the former Confederacy and settled in Oklahoma. But by the time Oklahoma attained statehood in 1907, Democrats were in control and towns went sundown all over the state.
Sara has some tips for outing potential sundown towns, for those interested in doing some of the necessary legwork. One message to take from reading this material is that although the former Confederate states were and still are quite unfriendly to Black men and women, the so-called enlightened northern states tended to be every bit as segregationist, if only employing different means to achieve that particular outcome. For me it's a fairly old enough message, that dates back to my early interests in social psychology (I can't recommend strongly enough James Jones' classic book, Prejudice and Racism). Another huge message - equally old to me - is that the myth of America as having moved past its racist roots (one that Obama's probably successful run for the White House will only perpetuate) is seriously in need of busting.

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