Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Letters to the Editor

September 23, 2013

READER POINT OF VIEW: Coming to Terms with Goshen’s ‘Sundown Town’ History


Exclusion largely social and cultural

Mike Puro, mayor of Goshen from 1988 to 1997, informed me recently that when he was Goshen’s clerk-treasurer in the mid-1980s he thoroughly researched the matter and found no evidence of “sundown laws” on Goshen’s books. And neither Puro nor Allan Kauffman, Goshen’s mayor since ’97, is aware of any city-limits signage barring African Americans; both indicate that Goshen’s methods of exclusion were largely social and cultural. They add, however, that some property deeds for subdivisions (such as the Fidler Addition and Carter Road) included language that excluded African Americans—and Jews, according to Puro, a ’67 graduate of Goshen High School, who recalls that he had no African American classmates.

Indeed, in a four-page report in 2012 titled “Revisiting a ‘Sundown Town’: Race & Culture in Goshen” by a Goshen College class called Reporting for the Public Good, two students confirm the comments of Puro and Kauffman regarding property deeds: “A restrictive covenant that appeared on some Goshen properties in the 1930s and 1940s [reads]: ‘No persons of any other race but the white race shall use or occupy any building or any lot (except in the capacity of being servants to the white occupants).’” The writers quote Kauffman as saying, “‘It’s not a proud moment in our history.’”

Though in Shelley v. Kraemer the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 declared such deeds unenforceable, Beth Hostetler Berry, a teacher education professor at Goshen College for 20 years, was made aware of the existence of such a restrictive covenant on Carter Road in the mid to late 1950s.

Personal note: At a well-attended (more than two dozen guests) block party my wife and I hosted in our 13th Street backyard in May 1987 one of our neighbors (now deceased) suddenly began rhapsodizing about the “good old days” in Goshen when “colored people” had to be out of town by sunset. He also complained about the influx of Hispanics and bemoaned the fact that Goshen wasn’t the way it used to be.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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