music friday: dan hicks, grateful dead, alison krauss
geezer cinema: stowaway (joe penna, 2021)

sundown town

Today I learned ... well, it's nothing I didn't already know, so maybe "learned" is the wrong word, but it helped me combine a few things I knew into something I hadn't considered in quite this way before.

I have written before about growing up in Antioch, California, which until my senior year of high school in 1970 had no black people. This fact has been in my mind recently, with the just-finished NFL draft, where Najee Harris was a first-round pick. Harris, who set records playing college ball at Alabama (one of the prime football colleges in the country), went to Antioch High School. He has a chance to be the greatest football player in Antioch High history (an honor that I'm guessing is currently held by Hall of Fame lineman Gino Marchetti). Najee Harris is black. And in 2021, that isn't noteworthy ... Antioch has come a long way in 50 years. Wikipedia informs us that "the city has grown substantially more diverse since the 1990s, with no ethnic group comprising more than one-third of Antioch's population."

Wikipedia describes the Antioch I grew up in as "an all-white sundown town". And it wasn't just blacks who were discriminated against ... a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story in its title: "The Bay Area town that drove out its Chinese residents for nearly 100 years."

I knew about sundown towns, and I certainly knew about Antioch's history. But I'd never put those two facts together. If nothing else, it makes my story shorter in the telling: I grew up in Antioch, California, a sundown town.

The city's progress isn't confined to sports. Two of the last three mayors, including current mayor Lamar Thorpe, are black. If I had to guess, I'd say most younger residents of Antioch know little or nothing about its past as a sundown town. I often say I don't recognize Antioch any longer ... it's been 40 years since we last lived there. But I'm mostly thinking about the size of the city. In 1920, around the time my grandparents from Spain moved to Antioch, the population was under 2000. By 1930, when my father was 6 years old, it was up to 3500. And it kept growing ... 11,000 in 1950, three years before I was born, up to 28,000 when I graduated from high school in 1970. The census for that year says that 98.1% of the populace of Antioch was "white" ("white" encompassing lots of groups that have their own categories now, such as Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, and Spanish-Americans). According to that census, there were 42 "Negroes" living in Antioch, and if you asked me at the time, I'd say that overstated the case by around 38 people.

Times change. When we had kids, we moved to Berkeley, partly because we liked the city, but also because we didn't want our kids to grow up in that same racist environment in which we were raised. Our kids were born in 1975 and 1978 ... the 1980 census says there were 615 Black people living in Antioch at the time. I'm glad things have changed in my home town, but I'm even more glad that we got our kids out of there.

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