The city of Glendale, once the location of the American Nazi Party headquarters in the 1960s, has become the first city in the state of California as well as the third in the United States to officially apologize for its racist history as a “sundown town.”
The resolution was unanimously passed by the Glendale city council following protests against racial discrimination in the city in June that were triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, NBC Los Angeles reports.
As part of its efforts to atone for its dark past and tackle racial discrimination, the city, whose Black population at the moment is less than 2%, moved to condemn its history as a “sundown town” – a term referring to the several cities in the United States that did not welcome Black people after dark.
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“It has that legacy and it makes sense to address that head on,” Glendale City Councilman Dan Brotman said, adding that the apology, though symbolic, was crucial towards their quest in fostering a more racially inclusive community. “The resolution does commit us to look at how we conduct affairs in Glendale and look at how racism may be playing a role.”
A local activist from the Coalition for an anti-racist Glendale, Tara Peterson, also welcomed the resolution. “Being able to say, hey we know we were once this way — we’re no longer this way, and this is what we’re going to do moving forward,” she told NBC Los Angeles. “It’s extremely empowering and makes a community feel like they can come together and now we can think about healing and reconciliation.”
Besides the apology, the city council also announced they’ll hire an investigator to look into Glendale’s racial history and how racial bias may be influencing its hiring practices, housing and police policies.
Dating back to the 19th century, some locations in the north became sundown towns from 1915 during the Great Migration – the period where hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the south moved upstate for better opportunities, according to the Los Angeles Times. In an effort to bar African Americans from their communities and also make them know they were unwelcome, sundown towns adopted laws and engaged in a series of rough tactics against them, including hostile housing policies and police intimidation, James Loewen, a sociologist knowledgeable in that area, told the news outlet.
Signs warning African Americans to leave town by sundown were also sometimes visible in those areas. Though Jim Crow laws in the south were laid bare and Blacks knew where to and where not to go, the case was exactly opposite in sundown towns, making those areas occasionally more dangerous for them, photographer and author Candacy Taylor told the Los Angeles Times in 2016.
“Westerners tend to be pretty delusional about issues of race sometimes,” Taylor said. “We demonize the Jim Crow South. But in some regards, people there were sometimes safer because there were clear signs. You knew where you could and couldn’t be. If you traveled to the North or the West and you sat down in a restaurant, you could sit for an hour and nobody would come to you.”
The practice of keeping Blacks away from such communities through harassment and other hostile acts continued to persist even after segregation was made illegal and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed.