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Sundowners signs taken down in North Tonawanda

Posted at 7:18 PM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-29 14:00:54-04

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — It’s a sign that’s caused some to look back in time in North Tonawanda, and many didn’t feel that a sign reading “Sundowners a neighborhood crime watch community” was appropriate to have up in 2020.

Mayor Arthur Pappas says some members of the community brought attention to it in recent months.

A sundown town historically meant Black people were not allowed to live there, and sundown towns popped up across the United States between 1890 and 1940.

Historians say it means a Black person needed to be gone before the sun went down, in many cases between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

“It became a practice,” said James Loewen. Loewen is the author of “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.” He studied sundown towns across America, and historically he says there’s not much in the history books about them. He says North Tonawanda was mentioned in his book.

“The term sundown town is not known by everybody,” he said.

Mayor Pappas says the signs in the community were taken down a couple months ago. He says it appeared to be a name of a neighborhood watch community, which was popular in the 1980’s. He says he doesn’t know of any active neighborhood watch communities.

One neighbor told 7 Eyewitness News, “I didn’t know what it meant, but now that I do I can understand why it was taken down.”

“Was it just chosen as a name or was there really something to it?” Pappas said. “We don’t know.”

“In our city, we hope everyone is treated equally, and if we find out they’re not, we try to fix it,” he said.