"Sundown Town" recognizes Goshen's past racial problems

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Northern Indiana is steeped in centuries of history and tradition, but not all of it is positive. Goshen, the seat of Elkhart County, is attempting to take steps to formally recognize racial discrimination in its past, and acknowledge what the city will continue to do to bolster diversity.

Tuesday, March 10, the city’s Community Relations Commission unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the “racially exclusionary past of Goshen, Indiana, as a ‘Sundown Town.’”

A “sundown town,” is a term created by author and historian James Loewen to apply to communities which systematically excluded—often by social and cultural means, including police profiling—members of non-white groups, from living in certain areas or even entering city limits after sundown.

Founded in 1831, the city of Goshen is now recognizing that for decades it acted as a “sundown town.”

“No one wants their community to be classified as a racist community whether it's past or present,” said at-large city council member, Brett Weddell.

When the initial resolution was brought to the table last fall, Weddell said he received calls from concerned citizens about labeling the city as a “sundown town.”

“The concern I've heard is, why is the community as a whole have to apologize for something that happened so many years ago and wasn't representative of the community as a whole?” Weddell explained.

Another concern, according to District 2 Council Member, Ed Ahlersmeyer, was that the resolution may “open a can of worms” if passed.

However, Ahlersmeyer said he feels the resolution offers an educational opportunity: “I moved into the area in 2002 and had no idea about this dark cloud in Goshen’s history. So the discussion has been invaluable.”

The Community Relations Commission, along with the two resolution’s two authors, edited and refined the text of the resolution to its current version.

Weddell said the focus now is on acknowledgement instead of apologizing: “It's important that we can acknowledge the fact, whether we like it or not Goshen had that history.”

”Whereas the Goshen Mayor’s Office and Goshen Chamber of Commerce put the City’s exclusionary reputation in writing in a number of publications from the mid-1930’s to the late 1970s.”

Other parts of the resolution resolve to follow the example and counsel of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and seek to eliminate racism, prejudice and discrimination and replace them with positive attributes of acceptance and harmony.

The resolution also commits Goshen to the advocacy for equality and justice for all, as well as pledges to work toward the common good in building a community where people of all races and cultural backgrounds are welcome to “live and prosper.”

The full Goshen City Council will decide on the resolution Tuesday, March 17.