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Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Signs of Racial Climate Change: From American Dream to Nightmare

McMillan St., Marshfield, WI (Photo by Jean Kelley Noble)

Note: Here is a thesis written a few years back... 
Jean and I are now re-visiting it with all the new
 information that has been surfacing: 
1) Local racism in our history 
2) The consumerist-driven, Keynesian/Deficit Spending 
3) The Wall St. Casino
 that is built upon the fiction that 
Real Estate values always rise 
4) The "Fictional Reserve System" 
and how it wrecks our economy in every way imaginable.
     Famous American novelist Kurt Vonnegut wrote about “why there were no Niggers in Shepherdstown” in Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut’s unemployed character, Dwayne Hoover’s stepfather, explained in the story that business was failing because there was not enough cheap labor available. He noted that “years ago, Niggers was coming up north by the millions-to Chicago, to Midland City, to Indianapolis, to Detroit. The World War was going on. There was such a labor shortage that even Niggers who couldn’t read or write could get good factory jobs. Niggers had money like they never had before. ‘Over at Shepherdstown, though,’ he went on, ‘the white people got smart quick. They didn’t want Niggers in their town, so they put up signs on the main roads at the city limits and in the railroad yard” that read: “Nigger, This is Shepherdstown. God help you if the sun ever sets on you here!” The novel contains a picture of a sign drawn by Vonnegut. Then the story depicted how violent a consumer-driven society can be as Vonnegut wrote of an African American family that arrived in a boxcar one night. He went on to tell about the angry mob that sawed the man in half on a barbed-wire fence. Dwayne’s stepfather concluded that since that night long ago, “there ain’t been a Nigger even spend the night in Shepherdstown.”[1] There is a disclaimer at the beginning of Breakfast of Champions, by the publisher, that states that the book “is a work of fiction” and  “names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously” and “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.”[2] The thesis presented here will prove that this is not entirely a true statement.
     Cities and suburbs in states north of the Mason-Dixon Line prevented African Americans from pursuing the “American Dream.” Racism marched lockstep with the individualism of post-war suburbanization and consumerism. For some, consumerism meant opportunity to reach the American Dream. For others, it meant an American nightmare. This growing movement served as the catalyst for “sundown suburbs” during the housing boom after World War II. This Individualism is the link between consumerism and racism. Exclusionary consumerism affected the American social structure as it reinforced race and class divisions in society. Suburbs were planned and designed to be all-white and residential/restrictive covenants were used to enforce this policy. Covenants came in the form of de jure restrictions and informal policies that were enforced by local governments, police and mobs. Threats were used in cities that already had African Americans among the population. Signs were posted to warn African Americans to stay away after dark. Consumer segregation contributed to the creation, incubation and maintenance of homogenous cities and suburbs.
     The cities that Vonnegut describes are called “sundown towns” and according to James W. Loewen, author of Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, “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.”[3] Vonnegut’s book is dedicated to Phoebe Hurty, who comforted him in Indianapolis during the Great Depression. In his preface, he recalls his teenage years and cites her as his main influence. Phoebe had two boys that were around his age (sixteen).  He learned many lessons from her. She taught him to be impolite about matters of sex, American history, famous heroes, distribution of wealth, school and just about everything else.[4]  According to Loewen, three topics are off-limits in American history textbooks: sex, religion and social class.[5] One can see that Hurty spoke impolitely to young Vonnegut about these topics. The one she seemed most concerned with was social class. Phoebe believed, as many in the Great Depression did, “that the nation would be happy and just and rational when prosperity came.”[6] Hurty may have relayed to Vonnegut the very essence of how important an issue consumerism is to our society. She thought that prosperity would cleanse the ills of the nation.  Unfortunately, that is not what happened, for consumerism negatively affects almost everything we do in American society and racism is no exception.
          Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of Christian theology and theology of culture, noted that this is because “people often have such things as red-lining (the refusal to give loans to those wishing to build businesses and buy homes in impoverished and minority communities) in mind when they think of illegal structures.  However, individualism itself is a structure: it structures the way we think and behave socially. Ideas, patterns of behavior, and sets of expectations also structure reality. And individualism and consumerism can function as immoral structures: they can reinforce race and class divisions.”[7] Metzger’s ideas are based on Anthony Gidden’s theory of structuration. Gidden developed the theory to reconcile the dichotomies of social systems in sociology. The theory as it relates in this argument involves agency and structure with regard to race and class division.  Agency refers to the ability of individuals to act on their own free will.  Structure is the powerful influence of religion, social class, ethnicity and gender which restricts potential for prosperity and upward mobility.[8]
      Loewen focuses on social class as the most important variable in our consumer society. He writes that “social class is considered a blemish on American democracy. Like all blemishes, it is rarely spoken of in American history textbooks. In order to understand social class in American society, it is important to look at the benefits and faults of capitalism.” These blemishes were written about by Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions. His work is the best history book we have by 1973 with regard to sundown towns. A decade later, historians caught up with Vonnegut. Nancy J. Weiss, in 1983, published the book Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR, which is the first mention of sundown towns or signs by any historian in the modern era. Most of the work by historians with regards to racism is about the South.  The account in her book describes the sign at the city limits of Elwood, Indiana, in 1940, which read, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here.”  This town, interestingly enough, was also the home to Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Presidential candidate who lost in the general election to Franklin D. Roosevelt.[9]  Elwood is just forty miles away from Indianapolis and can be considered a suburb. Maybe the “Shepherdstown” Vonnegut was writing about represented Elwood. There are parallels between what Vonnegut wrote of and disturbing accounts in American history during the time he lived.  He died in his 80s in 2007. Vonnegut’s work is an artistic oral history. The fact that he grew up in Indianapolis, which was surrounded by sundown towns, gives a lot of credibility to his depiction of race relations in northern states.[10]  These were formative times in modern American history. The Great Depression and World War II were very influential on Kurt Vonnegut’s writing as they also were in the shaping of our consumer society and the racial discrimination that goes with it.  Race relations hit a low point and continued until 1940. This change in the racial climate can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. This period from 1890 to about 1940 is referred to as the “Nadir Period” of race relations.[11] In 1940, Wisconsin was virtually an all-white state, with the exception of Milwaukee. Less than twenty percent of African Americans in Wisconsin resided in Milwaukee in 1890.  By 1930, the percentage increased to seventy-two percent.[12]  Historian Robert C. Nesbit shows statistical data that African Americans only composed one half of one percent of the population of Wisconsin and were for “all superficial intents and purposes, out of sight and out of mind.”[13]  Historians and sociologists may not write about sundown towns because they may just not be aware of them. Loewen, who is a sociologist, corresponded with James Danky, a Wisconsin Historical Society librarian who reported that he had checked with three of his “most knowledgeable colleagues” and wrote: “there is consensus, we do not know of any such towns in Wisconsin.  Clearly the Badger State has a full supply of racism, just no such towns or counties.  I believe you have found such entities elsewhere, it is just that I think that it is a small category, at least in terms of being formally established.”[14]
     In Stephen Grant Meyer’s recent  book, As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods, he argues that “most American history textbooks contain extensive treatments of the civil rights movement…readers of textbooks will not find much discussion of race in housing or of the conflict over residential space in the United States.” He goes on to say that most monographs “are of high quality and have become extremely influential, but no new national study exists.”  His first purpose in the book was to tell a story that has not been told and that is the purpose here. He wanted to correct what has come to be, “the accepted truth.”  He believed that history should not to be used to cover up disquieting events.  Meyer feels that his work “is the truth about race relations in the United States.”  He goes on to argue that restrictive covenants continue to segregate our society in northern cities to this day.[15]  
      An account from Loewen, shows an illustration of the “concentration of opportunity in the casual networks of elite sundown suburbs.” In 1999, white teenagers had so many job opportunities and prospects in Darien, Connecticut they have no interest in working at McDonalds.  The restaurant buses African American residents from East Harlem to work there.  East Harlem is over an hour away. They have virtually no opportunity to make contacts that would lead to upward mobility. Sundown suburbanites know only whites so information about job opportunities never reaches African Americans. In Milwaukee, as of 2003, African Americans got paid 49 cents to every dollar that whites made. This was far below the national average of 64 cents to the dollar. Segregation plays a big role in determining wage and Milwaukee is the second most segregated city in America.[16] Consumerism is to blame.
     Housing is particularly influenced by a consumer’s income and the jobs that provide the opportunity. The American Dream by the 1950’s came to be defined as home ownership in the suburbs and the accumulation of furniture and appliances to enhance the quality of life. Unfortunately, not everyone is included in this dream and for those excluded it could cost them their lives.  The northern portion of the country is thought to be without racial segregation. One must remember that the Mason-Dixon Line is a misleading division of North and South. The line has been used to contrast northern tolerance and abolition with southern racial inhumanity. Historians need to be careful with such a simple comparison, as Leon F. Litwack noted in his book, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, because the “cruelty and violence of southern slavery requires no further demonstration” and “does not prove northern humanity.” [17]   
There was also a sign in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1963, that warned, “NIGGER: Don’t let the sun go down on you in our town!”[18]  Manitowoc is about eighty miles north of Milwaukee. This oral history appears in Loewen’s book on sundown towns and is confirmed in a personal e-mail from Grey Gundaker, Ph.D., a professor at William and Mary, describing his recollections. He noted how he viewed living in the South differently from the North with regards to racism.  He writes, “I only remember one sign.  My family moved to Manitowoc in 1963 from Tennessee.  I was in 8th grade.  In the south there were plenty of lingering relics of the segregation period at that time, but where i [sic] was from that was within towns -- like separate schools and rest rooms -- not whole towns themselves. Plus we were lead to think that the north was ‘better’ than the south when it came to race relations.  So this sign shocked me and I asked my mother about it.  She said the north was not necassirily [sic] better, just different in its racism.[19]  This sign was almost exactly like the one reported in Elwood over two decades earlier.[20] These signs are also exactly the same as the ones Vonnegut saw and wrote about. 
Sundown towns came in a wide range of population densities. There were rural independent towns like De Land, Illinois (population 500) and also large and urban cities like Appleton, Wisconsin, which had a population of 57,000 back in 1970.  Some entire counties “went sundown.” This would happen when the county seat did.  Sundown suburbs could be much larger. Levittown, Long Island, had 82,000 residents.  Livonia, Michigan, and Parma, Ohio, were very large cities with over 100,000 residents.”[21] According to Elaine Tyler May, in a chapter of Consumer Society in American History: A Reader, entitled The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home, she describes suburbs as “isolated enclaves” that promote homogeneity and intensify racial segregation.[22] Sundown suburbs were planned communities. Part of this plan was to exclude African Americans. This differs from sundown towns that had African Americans that were driven out. These cities became all-white on purpose via violent threat.
           Locally, Jeff Kleiman, professor of history at the UW Marshfield/Wood County, wrote in The Marshfield Story, 1872-1997 about the city’s “first major exposure to racial diversity.”  Because of a labor shortage in the bean canning industry, Marshfield saw the first instance of a large group of “colored” imported laborers who could not get served in restaurants or bars “either by direct refusal of owners” or “indirectly by threats of local patrons to withhold their business if blacks were served.”  This situation was the topic of some debate in the local newspaper, the Marshfield News-Herald, and in the opinion section, the editor wrote that at least they “don’t ask to come into our houses.”[23] Marshfield was not the only city in Central Wisconsin that had racial exclusion from consumption.
     Racism had been a longstanding problem in Stevens Point.  All African Americans who were in Stevens Point in the late 1960s were for the most part with UWSP.  Some were faculty members and a handful of others were students. In May of 1962, events proved to have an extremely violent component as well. Three African exchange students were shot at from a passing car.[24]  An Iranian student, who merely asked for his seat back in a bar, was taken to the ground and held in a headlock and punched repeatedly.  The Iranian student used a broken beer bottle in self-defense which ultimately killed his attacker.[25]
An informal restrictive covenant in housing rental may have existed in Stevens Point. The local history of Professor Jimmie Franklin is an example of how a sundown town is created and maintained.  The facts of the Franklin case are these:  On October 5, 1967 “Mrs. Franklin called” an unidentified property manager “and inquired about renting a house listed in the Stevens Point Journal. At this time, it was confirmed that indeed the house was still up for rent. Mrs. Franklin then informed” the manager “that she would call tomorrow (October 6) and get an appointment.” On October 6, 1967 “Mrs. Franklin calls” the manager again “and gets an appointment for 4:45 pm.”  At 4:45 pm, “Dr. and Mrs. Franklin, Negroes, with their two year old daughter, appear at the house to be rented on” an unidentified street in Stevens Point. The manager “informs the Franklins that the house has already been rented—that his wife rented it ‘this morning.’(Morning of October 6)” At approximately 5:00 pm the “Franklins return to their home at Varsity Village. Dr. Franklin requested that one of his colleagues, Dr. Gene Brack, Department of History, Stevens Point call and ask for an appointment to see the house which the Franklins had just left. Upon calling, Dr. Brack learned from the property manager and his wife “that the house had not been rented, and an appointment was set for 6 pm (October 6).” At 6:00 pm “Dr. and Mrs. Brack, along with their son, look at the house. Dr. Brack conducts a conversation with” the manager “and finds that the house could be rented for less than previously published. It was made plain to Professor Brack that the house was up for rent.” At approximately 6:20pm on October 6th, “Dr. Brack calls Dr. Franklin and informs him that the house he (Franklin) looked at earlier in the evening (4:45) was still for rent.”[26]
Oral history from UWSP Professor Paul Mertz, a retired faculty member at the university in the history department, confirms the UWSP Archives document and the Stevens Point Journal article about his former colleague. Mertz acknowledged that he knew Jimmy Franklin quite well. Mertz went on to say that “the first time I ever heard of Stevens Point, was because of the Jimmie Franklin situation.”  Franklin and Mertz shared the same advisor at the University of Oklahoma. Mertz met him for the first time when he was hired at UWSP. Franklin’s situation was never resolved and the university was unable to retain him. He took a job at a different, perhaps more racially diverse UW, The University of Washington in Seattle.[27]      
There were and still are very few African Americans in Central Wisconsin. The 7th Congressional District, which contains cities like Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids, Wausau and Stevens Point, was in 1960 the whitest in the entire United States. [28] In other congressional districts around Wisconsin, assemblymen in Appleton and Beaver Dam were leading the charge to approve legislation that would allow property owners to discriminate in renting or buying to any person they saw fit. Lobbies from the Wisconsin Motel Association, as well as the Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville boards of realtors registered against fair housing legislation in Wisconsin by 1963.[29]
        Around this same time in history, in July of 1965, there was a storm of newspaper articles in the Stevens Point Journal, with instances of racial bias in buying or renting of housing and of obtaining temporary lodging overnight. One complaint was filed and heard by the Human Relations Commission for the first time regarding this issue. Mr. and Mrs. Weaver, in Beloit, Wisconsin were unsuccessful in obtaining housing and were not even allowed to enter a house that had been for sale. Furthermore, they had been given “the run around” in filling out the proper paperwork to file an official complaint. Officials in the Housing Relations Commission, of all places, “were unable to locate such a form immediately.”  Another instance of racial exclusion reported in Wisconsin, involving yet another professor, actually occurred in Milwaukee. Wolde Ab Seyoum, from the University in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, who was spending four days visiting the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said that he “had quite a bit of difficulty in getting rooms.”  He went on to say that he “never realized that the racial situation in America was so serious.”[30] According to an online article from The Chicagoist, an African American by the name of Percy Julian applied for a job in Appleton in the 1930s as a chemist in the paper industry.  Julian, who held a Ph.D. from DePauw University, wasrejected due to Appleton's status as a sundown town, where blacks were not allowed to stay overnight.”[31]
     Article after article appeared regarding racist assemblymen Harold Froehlich from Appleton and Elmer Nitschke from Beaver Dam, and their crusade for a guarantee of their perceived “property rights.” These “rights” took the form of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would put the force of law to the agendas of sundown towns in Wisconsin at the state level.  Had it passed, the amendment would have read that “the state shall guarantee to each owner of private real property the absolute right to own, control, buy, sell, lease or rent such property to whomsoever he chooses and shall protect each owner’s right and discretion to prohibit its use by any individual.”[32]
     Beaver Dam, grew from 4,222 in 1890 to 10,356 in 1940.  It reached 14,265 in 1970.  The African American population of Beaver Dam fell from 8 in 1890 to just 1 ten years later.   It stayed under 2 until around 1970.  A 1969 report at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, interviewed residents “to determine problems which might face a Negro as he lives in this presently non-integrated community.”  Moira Meltzer-Cohen was a Beaver Dam resident and researcher and several elder residents had told her the same things in the same words, which was basically this: “A couple of black families tried to move in during the 60s and 70s and they were run right out.”[33]
     Historian James Cornelius went to Lawrence University in Appleton.  One of the first things he learned when he arrived in 1978 was that “Appleton was a sundown town.”[34] Appleton is not without recent race relation problems, either.  It still exists between Hmong, Hispanics and whites. As recent as 1999, at Appleton’s East and North High Schools, taunting, name calling and violence was reported.  One incident involved defacing a Mexican flag on one day while the next day students had Confederate Battle Flag symbols hanging from pockets and car antennas.[35] 
     Sometimes the local police would enforce informal ordinances. In the 1920s, in Superior, Wisconsin, a news article describes how the town’s police chief, Louis Osborne ran all the “idle negroes out of Superior” who were employed to work at a local carnival and made it clear that “they’re going to stay out.” Furthermore, the manager of the carnival said that he “discharged them all” and “shall never hire another one, even though” he “never as yet had any trouble with them.” The management “closed down one of their attractions that depicted plantation days and have employed whites to do the work formerly done by the negroes.”[36] This perceived “idleness” is also documented as having been around quite a long time.  Historian Heather Cox Richardson quotes the New York Times in 1890 as reporting that the “trouble in the South has always been the idleness and consequent worthlessness of a large part of the negro population.” She goes on to quote an African American leader from that same year in the Detroit area by the name of Robert A. Pelham, Jr. as saying that a “recent wave of prejudice…seems to have struck Detroit within the past year.”[37] African American populations swelled from just 1.8 percent in 1900 in Chicago and 1.4 percent in Detroit to 32.7 percent in Chicago and 43.7 percent in Detroit by 1970. Then whites left these cities for the sundown suburbs or smaller towns.[38]
     Police met trains at the station in Sheboygan, WI in the early 1960s, to warn African Americans not to stay there.  Renting rooms in Sheboygan even by 1976 was a challenge.  June Rosland, a social worker, remembered when an African American social worker visiting from the state office in Madison, stayed at a smaller motel outside of Sheboygan because she was not allowed at the main motel in the city. [39]  Perhaps some of this can be accounted for by the following study done for a Symposium on Milwaukee History, which was held in 2004 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The report was prepared by Jack Dougherty, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies.  He found that “when thousands of Southern migrants doubled and tripled the city’s Black population during the mid-twentieth century, intensive residential segregation in the impoverished ‘Inner Core’ shaped the struggles of the 1960s. Yet Black Milwaukeeans also divided themselves along social class lines throughout this period, to the extent that those who could afford to take advantage of civil rights gains left the inner city for outlying neighborhoods and suburbs to the north and west, eventually creating a hypersegregated region with not one, but multiple Black communities by the twenty-first century.”[40]  The warning at the train stations by police in Sheboygan (which is north of Milwaukee) seemed to be the response by whites to the north and west. Wisconsin in 1970 still had 126 all-white communities.[41] 
      One can question if Vonnegut’s novel was really fiction. He may have captured history as it really was because the truth would never be found anywhere in our history textbooks. A song by Malvina Reynolds called “Little Boxes” hit #84 on the American charts in 1964 as a cover by The Womenfolk.[42] The song serves as a history of the suburbs:
“Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.
And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.”[43]
These houses described in Malvina Reynolds song describe perfectly Levittown, a suburb of Long Island in New York and a confirmed sundown town.[44] This suburban community was designed and built by William Levitt.  Levitt used the Henry Ford assembly line method to build houses.  He boasted in 1948 that his firm could build a house every 15 minutes. Malvina Reynolds illustrates this in her song.  Lesser quality materials were used to build houses cheaper and faster.  Levitt had a lot of interest from African American families that wanted to move into his developments but he refused to sell to them because he was convinced that whites did not want African American neighbors due to the perceived effect on property values.  These exclusionary practices established in communities like Levittown, were confirmed through an oral history from Erwin Quintyne.  This draws a very strong parallel between racism and consumerism.  In 1953, Levittown reached 70,000 and became the largest community in America with no African American population.[45] Quintyne recalled in 2003, when he moved to North Amityville in 1961, which is an African American township adjoining Levittown, Long Island, that the community made it clear they didn’t want blacks. The message to African American suburbanites by the neighboring all-white community was: “We do not care who you are or what you have done; so far as this town is concerned, you are a nigger and unfit for human companionship.”[46] In Levittown, Pennsylvania, another all-white Levitt community, an African American family purchased a house in 1957 that incited whites to rock throwing, cross-burning and confederate flag waving.  This also was prompted by fear of declining property values.  One neighbor told a reporter for Life magazine that “He is probably a nice guy, but every time I look at him I see $2000 drop off the value of my house.” 
     Levitt made a public announcement during a press conference about the opening of his Burlington County, New Jersey development in June 1958 that he would not sell to African American buyers.  In 1960, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against Levitt’s attempt to create another all-white community. William Levitt hoped to achieve division of race within the sales of his housing developments.  Although he mass-produced, he did not allow for free trade as would be expected in a capitalistic society.  Most assembly line productions are set up to get the most amount of production at the cheapest and fastest means possible.  The purpose is to sell the most amount of product to anyone who has the means to pay for it.  Although Levitt used the model to mass-produce houses, he was unique in that he chose to only sell to whites.  In this way, consumerism has been flawed. Not everyone can participate. 
     When scholars and students of history think of the Jim Crow laws, they think that these practices occurred only in the Deep South. The truth is that sundown towns were rare in the traditional South and were abundant in the far northern states. Gundaker made that distinction clear. Race Relations were and are not necessarily better in the North. These relations were and are just different.  Perhaps the most shocking aspect of sundown towns is that they still persist today in the form of gated communities and exclusive suburbs. Understanding sundown towns is an important component in clearly synthesizing the influence of race relations and the link to consumerism in American history. Influential sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote this of communities: “…the distinction between classes is rigorously observed; and the feature of most striking economic significance in these class differences is the distinction maintained between the employments proper to the several classes.”[47]  Veblen’s theory can be applied to race divisions as well. Vonnegut wrote about African Americans that migrated north and got good factory jobs. The fear of people thought to be inferior taking jobs from whites is an important factor to consider in understanding the underlying cause of sundown towns and suburbs. The American Dream was out of reach for African Americans and other minorities. Phoebe Hurty was wrong. The prosperity that followed the war did not cure the ills of racial prejudice. Exclusionary consumerism is to blame.  If anything, prosperity has made things worse. The American consumer culture reinforces race and class divisions. Some suburbs today are all-white on purpose. Covenants create and maintain sundown towns via de jure restrictions or informal policy that were enforced by local governments, police and mobs. Sundown signs were spotted in towns like Elwood, Indiana and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Consumer segregation in our society is at least partially to blame for sundown towns and suburbs. From the beginning of the Nadir Period to the time Vonnegut wrote Breakfast of Champions in 1973, there have been many changes in the racial climate and this has been fostered by the consumerist ideology. The same thing that causes people to consume causes sundown towns and suburbs: fear. The fear of someone moving into your neighborhood that is different from you is an underlying cause of racism. Consumerism may be the dominant “ism” of the Twentieth Century, but the promotion of another important “ism,” racism, in our cities and suburbs is the unfortunate byproduct.[48] These isolated and homogeneous cities and suburbs “go sundown” to keep what people fear away from them. Fear of the “stuff” that they have accumulated or hope to accumulate being taken away from them is what fuels these problems in a consumer society. For African Americans and other minorities, the American Dream could cost them their lives. Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut made the story up in Breakfast of Champions. It appears exact in its representation of events that occurred in American history. His drawing was too close to what a sundown sign looks and reads like to believe that it was a product of his imagination.  Prosperity is not the answer to the problems regarding race. It did not make us happy, just or rational. It contributed to the problem. The American Dream needs to include all Americans if we are to consider this a society that believes in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though the time since slavery has passed, the view of African American inferiority has not.  These signs of racial climate change are clearly visible. Some of these signs have been seen literally posted at the city limits while those who study history can observe others in the figurative sense. The American Dream became and continues to be an American nightmare for those excluded.

[1] Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (New York: The Dial Press, 1973), 243-246.

[2] Ibid., disclaimer.
[3] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The   New Press, 2005), 4.

[4] Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (New York: The Dial Press, 1973), 2.

[5] James W. Loewen, Everything You’ve Been Taught Is Wrong: Fact, Fiction, and Lies in American History (audio course guide) 2005.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] Paul Louis Metzger, Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 59.

[9] Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the age of FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 271.

[10] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The   New Press, 2005), 25.

[11] Ibid., Photo 16.

[12] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 68.

[13]  Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1973, 1989), 532.

[14]  James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 4.

[15] Stephen Grant Meyer, As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), vii-viii.

[16] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The   New Press, 2005), 355-356.

[17] Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), vii.

[18] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The   New Press, 2005), 69.

[19] Grey Gundaker, e-mail message reply to Scott Noble, December 16, 2007.

[20] Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the age of FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 271

[21] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 4.

[22] Lawrence Glickman, Consumer Society in American History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 307.

[23]  Marshfield History Project, The Marshfield Story 1872-1997 (Amherst: Palmer Publications, Inc., 1997), 69.

[24] Stevens Point Daily Journal. “Shots Fired At Students From Speeding Car.” Stevens Point, WI: May 21, 1962.

[25]Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Man Is Dead After Fight In Beer Bar.” Green Bay, WI: May 18, 1962.

[26] Wisconsin State University-Stevens Point, FACTS OF THE FRANKLIN HOUSING CASE (Stevens Point: Archives, October 6-7, 1967).

[27] Interview, Paul Mertz by Scott Noble, October 12, 2007.

[28] “Racial Problem In Housing-Does It Exist In This City?” Stevens Point Journal, October 16,       1967.

[29] “Seek Property Right Guarantee” The Stevens Point Journal, July 14, 1965.

[30] “African Finds Racial Bias In Milwaukee” The Stevens Point Journal, July 10, 1965.

[31] April 1, 2007. “Black Chemist to Receive Recognition The Chicagoist. [accessed April 19, 2008].

[32] “Seek Property Right Guarantee” The Stevens Point Journal, July 14, 1965.

[33] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The   New Press, 2005), 69.

[34] Ibid., 201.

[35] Ibid., 330.

[36] “Superior Police To Deport Idle Negroes At Once” Duluth News Tribune, June 17, 1920.

[37] Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865 – 1901(Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press 2001), 205

[38] Stephen Grant Meyer, As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods  (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), 232

[39] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 68-69.

[40] Dougherty, Jack. 2004. African Americans, Civil Rights, and Race-Making in Milwaukee. Milwaukee, WI: Symposium on Milwaukee History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. [accessed April 19, 2008].

[41] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 68.

[42] Song Facts. Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds. [accessed April 19, 2008].

[43] Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds. [accessed April 19, 2008].

[44] James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005), 4.

[45] Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 217.

[46] Ibid., 349.

[47] Thorstein Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications
Inc., 1899, 1994), 1.

[48] Gary Cross. An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 1.

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