Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Letters to the Editor

September 23, 2013

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


‘Race Relations in Goshen’

Offering an African American perspective on Goshen’s racist reputation in a January 1987 Dr. King Day speech to the Goshen Noon Kiwanis was John Stith (also deceased), who had begun serving as Goshen’s postmaster in 1977.

In an address titled “Race Relations in Goshen,” Stith said that when he was a high school student in South Bend in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he traveled here more than once for the Goshen Relays. “Regardless of whether you won or lost,” he said, “you had to leave town quick.”

After the speech, a newspaper reporter informed Stith that the following sentence appeared in the Goshen Chamber of Commerce’s introduction to the Maple City as late as 1978 in the Goshen City Directory: “Crime is at a minimum and contributing in large measure to the absence of crime is the character of the population—97.5 percent native-born white, 2 percent foreign-born white, .5 percent non-white.” Stith said “it does not surprise me” that the quotation appeared in the ’78 directory.

Recent research indicates that the wording of the end of that sentence in the 1939 to 1955 directories was: “… and no Negro population” instead of “.5 percent non-white.” By 1962 it said simply: “97.5 percent native-born white, 2.5 percent foreign-born white.” Soon thereafter “.5” was added.

Also in the ’39—and ’37—Goshen directories was an explanation of symbols: “Colored persons are designated by ©. The publishers are very careful in using this symbol but do not assume any responsibility in case of error.”

Travel nightmares for African Americans

Even in the early 1960s, Stith also noted in his ’87 address, his family would always pack a lunch when traveling south out of South Bend “because there was no place to eat along the way—unless you happened to come across a black community.”

Beginning in 1936, according to Black America Web (April 24, 2013), an African American New Yorker named Victor Green began publishing The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African American travelers in the United States. The site says: “Because of the racist conditions that existed from segregation, blacks needed a reference manual to guide them to integrated or black-friendly establishments.”

The book’s introduction included this statement: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.” The last edition of The Green Book was printed in 1964 after the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

The Aug. 28 News transcript of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech contains this sentence: “We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.”

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