by Doctor Science
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by historian James Loewen is one of the two books I think are most necessary to understand the 2016 election results (the other, as I've said before, is Sady Doyle's Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why). It's necessary because Trump's America is Sundown America: areas that are white because everyone else has been excluded. They've been cleansed, you might say.
Strictly speaking, "Sundown Towns" were towns where signs were posted warning African-Americans to leave by sundown. "When I began this research," Loewen says on his Sundown Towns website, "I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found about 507 in Illinois and thousands across the United States."
Not all of these towns had warning signs: Loewen defines a Sundown Town as "any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African-Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus "all-white" on purpose." Although Loewen (like me!) started out assuming that many places are "lily-white" because of happenstance or diffuse economic forces, he discovered that this basically never happens. Any time you see a place in America with more than a few hundred people that's 95% white or more, it's because white people made a choice and an effort to keep it that way. It is never an accident or happenstance.
How do we know it wasn't an accident? Because there used to be fewer lily-white places in the US, even in the North and West. At Orcinus, Sara Robinson summarized Loewen's research:
After the Civil War, newly-freed black families spread out across the country, looking for places to start over. By 1890, there was hardly a town in America that didn't have at least a small community of black tradesmen or farmers -- aspiring families putting down roots and planning better futures. There was no town too small, no corner so remote, that a handful of African-Americans didn't take refuge there -- hoping against hope they'd finally found a place that was far enough away from Jim Crow.
But Loewen noticed something else. Starting in the 1890 census -- and continuing up until the 1950 one -- these communities started to vanish from the census figures. Towns that had 50 or 60 African-Americans in one census had exactly zero in the next. It was like watching these small lights just wink out, as these communities one by one went sundown.
As I said: if you live in a predominantly white town or suburb, the odds are overwhelming that one of them was yours. It wasn't an accident. It didn't happen just because the houses were too expensive, or the winters were too cold, or they just never got around to moving there. Loewen's research shows that black families settled absolutely everywhere -- almost certainly including where you are. The reason they're not there now is that somebody in your community, at some point in the past, decided to force them out.
Sometimes places were "racially cleansed" with terrible violence, sometimes it was "mere" threats. Along with the violence, towns wrote ordinances barring African-Americans from being in town after dark, or from renting or owning property. These ordinances were common as new towns were established, places where black people would never be allowed to live.
By the 1930s, and especially in the East, it was common to have restrictive covenants to prevent African-Americans (and/or Jews, Asians, or Native Americans) from living in "lily-white" areas. The Federal Housing Administration, which was a major force encouraging homeownership and the growth of suburbs (especially after WWII), was explicitly discriminatory and segregationist, denying mortgages to African-Americans and to white people who might have been willing to live in their neighborhoods. Loewen calls the result "Sundown Suburbs", where non-whites were excluded by more subtle means than violence (usually).
Outside the traditional South—states historically dominated by slavery, where sundown towns are rare—probably a majority of all incorporated places kept out African Americans. ... Illinois, for example, had 671 towns and cities with more than 1,000 people in 1970, of which 475—71%—were all-white in census after census. ... almost all of these 475 were sundown towns. There is reason to believe 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.
Look up places you've lived in that database. Every time you see another article about "understanding Trump voters", look up the history of the place they're talking about. If it's not in the database, look up its demographics (Wikipedia usually has it). What percentage of the population is African-American? If it's less than 2%, some type of exclusion went on in the past, and the effects are still there.
White Americans have been brought up not to notice racial exclusion, not to think of lily-white communities as something that needs to be explained. African-Americans, of course, have had no such luxury. Every black American I know over the age of 40 recalls childhood car trips where they heard the grown-ups discussing what places would be safe to stop--for the night, for a meal, or just to use the bathroom. The Negro Motorist Green Book compiled such information, and the 1956 edition has been put on a Google map. This database is basically the inverse of the Sundown Towns database, and it can be equally eye-opening for a White person, to look around your state and see how few islands of safety it contained.
What does this mean for the election?
It means that the pattern we see of a Red Sea with Blue Islands and coasts (and the archipelago of the Black Belt):
is one chosen and constructed by White people. Blue America (made up of almost all non-White voters, plus a minority of Whites) is concentrated into fewer, denser locations than Red because they weren't welcome elsewhere. It's not just Black Americans who were excluded or "cleansed" from much of the country, after all: Hispanics, Asians, all kinds of immigrants, Jews (historically, at least)--not to mention sexual minorities.
White self-segregation is where the pronounced urban/rural divide in the election came from. Combined with the disproportionate power rural areas get in the Electoral College, and we're looking at President Donald Trump.
May God have mercy upon us all.
 Loewen -- and I -- focus on exclusion of Black Americans because it's comparatively easy to document, has a long track record, and other types of exclusion act as add-ons: it's extremely rare to find a community that excludes Hispanics, Asians, or Jews that does not also (or first) exclude Blacks. Towns that advertised themselves as "Christian Communities" (many did, before the 1970s) and excluded Jews somehow overlooked including African-American Christians, for instance.
 "All-white" is in quotes because sundown towns often had one black family, or a small group of servants, who were permitted to live there while all others were excluded.