Sundown Town – “Possible”

Having recently seen the movie The Green BookI started thinking back nearly fifty-five year years. I went to high school in a small town in the panhandle of Texas. My memory has grown a bit cloudy after so many years, yet I am almost certain there was not one African-American student in my high school.

I have two very vivid memories regarding those times. My first memory is one of working at a gas station. In those days an attendant (me) pumped gas for customers. Late one afternoon a car pulled in to fill up and a middle-aged African-American man got out of the car. The rest of his family remained in the auto. As best I can remember, here are his words. “We’ve been traveling all day, can you tell me how to get to the colored part of town so we can spend the night?”  I had no idea what to say to the man, so I said nothing in response. I’d not seen a black family in that town in four years. I remember he looked at me and then again spoke. “I understand, we’ll keep driving.” I stood filled with shame and embarrassment and watched them drive away.

A year after high my school graduation, I was working in a hospital about fifty miles away from where I’d gone to school. An African-American nurse and I became friends. When she found out were I’d lived, she told me a story. She said when she was a young girl, she and her family had to pass through that town while on their way to Colorado to visit her grandparents. She said there were signs posted on each end of town that proclaimed, “N….., don’t let the sun set with you still in ……”

I’ve attempted to find information that would deny or confirm if that town was indeed a Sundown Town. The only information I can find lists it as possible. I was a military brat, my early years were formed by living with all people – white, brown, black, purple, it didn’t matter. Color never seemed an issue as best that I can recall.

There were indeed good people in my high school town. Many hard-working, church going people. People that loved their children, those proud of their country and served in the military. I don’t know much beyond that. I don’t want to believe that kind of hateful racism lurked in that town, although my gut says it probably did. I’ve not been back in many decades, so I have no measure of how it looks today. I do know that this country has moved somewhat past those days in the 60s, but I also know the ugliness that was overt and blatant in our history, still remains. Perhaps to a lesser degree, perhaps more covert, but it remains. And I still feel shame and embarrassment.