Sunset Towns – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
Sunset Cities are all-white communities that intentionally exclude African Americans or other minorities from residing within their borders through forced eviction, violent threats, or economic coercion. Several sunset towns and counties appeared in Georgia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Creation and application
Most sunset towns emerged between the 1880s and 1960s. They were common in communities in the Northeast, Midwest, West, and parts of the South that had few African American residents and other minorities before the 1880s. In southern counties dominated by plantation agriculture, white residents focused on subjugating black workers rather than expelling them. As a result, Georgian towns at sunset usually appeared in regions outside the black belt, such as Appalachia or the suburbs of fast-growing cities.
Most cities at sunset were the product of violence. In some cases, white mobs carried out racial cleansings that evicted entire black communities in a single day. In other cases, white gangs used systematic threats of violence punctuated by lynchings or public acts of racial terror. In many cases, white people resorted to “whitecapping” or “night riding”, acts of organized and extralegal violence carried out under cover of night, which sought to terrorize black families and communities. Public lynchings and night rides drove black residents out of Forsyth and Dawson counties in 1912, for example.
Whites also used legal means to displace black residents. Anti-Black housing ordinances and zoning laws were particularly common, especially in the suburbs, and “buy-out” campaigns forced Black residents to sell their homes, while landlords refused to renew existing leases. . In Chamblee, local officials simply refused to fund black schools before the desegregation of public education, which acted as a strong deterrent to black settlement. Other common methods of exclusion included social ostracism and selective enforcement of penal codes. But white violence — or the threat of it — remained the primary method of enforcement, and communities sometimes even posted signs at city limits to discourage black visitors from staying after dark.
Sunset Cities in Georgia
Sociologist James Loewen used oral histories, census data, and other historical records to identify Sunset Towns nationwide. His research identified seven communities in Georgia that were known or likely to have been sunset towns, while identifying twelve others that shared similar characteristics.
Blue Ridge had virtually no black residents for decades, and oral evidence suggests that African Americans may not have been allowed within the city limits after dark. As of the 2020 census, the community had fewer than twenty black residents.
Chamblee had only two black residents in 1960 and one in 1970. Today it is a racially diverse suburb.
Thomas County voted to evict its Jewish residents in 1862 after blaming them for the wartime collapse of the local economy. It is not known when this prohibition ended, but a Jewish congregation had been established in the county seat of Thomasville in 1885.
Union County had only one black resident listed in the 1950 and 1960 censuses. As of 2020, over 200 African Americans resided in the county.
Dawson County deported over 100 African Americans in 1912. Census data indicates there were no black residents in 1920 and 1950; it was not until 2010 that the black population exceeded that of the 1910 census.
Towns County experienced a steep decline in the number of black residents between 1900 and 1910, and had no African Americans within its borders from 1920 to 1940. Oral evidence suggests that the county seat of Hiawassee had a reputation for violence against African Americans, especially after dark. Black residents did not even make up one percent of county residents until the 2020 census, which counted 158 black residents out of a total population of 12,493.
In 1912, white residents violently evicted Forsyth County’s 1,098 black residents. In the years that followed, white Forsythians often used violence or intimidation to discourage black visitors and residents, furthering the county’s reputation as Georgia’s most notorious sunset community. In 1915, for example, a driving tour of prominent Georgians and journalists stopped at Cumming, the county seat. Noticing their black drivers, locals pelted the cars with rocks and attempted to drag a black man out of his vehicle until one of the wealthy passengers pulled out a gun. In 1968, a gang of white men surrounded a group of ten black school children at a Forsyth County campground, threatening them and chanting insults until they left. In 1980, two white residents shot a black firefighter, Miguel Marcelli, in the head shortly after sunset.
Forsyth County gained a national reputation as a sunset town in 1987, following media coverage of attacks on civil rights marchers after a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rally in the county. White residents violently enforced racial prohibition for decades, no census recorded more than 50 African Americans (out of a total population of over 10,000) until 2000. Although Forsyth County experienced a Significant growth in the early 21st century, African Americans make up a smaller proportion of the county’s population than in 1910.