Recognizing a dark past in Goshen

Michiana leaders are being asked to step back in time and acknowledge a hateful piece of history. Goshen residents are asking that the city's past as a “sundown town” be recognized.

So-called “sundown towns” existed throughout this country up until the late 60's and were nicknamed for cities that purposely forced African Americans and other minorities to leave before the sun set.

This form of racial segregation was used as a way to keep the city as an all-white city two Goshen residents presented evidence of this past. Now the question is – will city leaders vote to put this dark history on the books?

“The basic problem was that African American people they were informed or they were aware that if they did not leave this locality by night fall then they were most likely to encounter some trouble and that they were not wanted,” says Lee Roy Berry Jr, a. Goshen resident and practicing attorney.

Berry along with Dan Shenk, another Goshen resident; have spent the past month collecting historical documents showing that Goshen was a “sundown town.”

The findings have been presented to the Community Relations Commission and the Goshen ministerial association.

“There were instances where people were approached by policemen, law enforcement officers, and there were other kinds of occasions where people individual citizens, white citizens, in the local area took it upon themselves to approach people of color who happen to be passing through in this area during nightfall to let them know they were not welcomed,” says Berry. 

There were never any official ordinances stating that African Americans were not welcome in Goshen, but Shenk and Berry describe social norms that kept the population of Goshen as strictly white.

“Just simply saying you are not allowed in Goshen which people before me did encounter,” adds Berry. 

There are documents from the 30's and 40's stating low crime rates were due to the all white population. Documents also show neighborhood guidelines, which restricted non-whites from owning property in that area. 

There are also pictures of community events held in Goshen in the 50's like minstrel shows, which consisted of white performers dressed in black face, mocking African American culture.

“When you look at the situation and you understand the history and the facts and they are there. They are documented then it is just a question of whether you really take those core beliefs seriously and how do you uphold them,” says Berry. 

Berry adds that asking for public acknowledgement wouldn't be for personal gratification. Instead he believes it would be courageous of the city to accept its wrongs.

“It's always a good thing to critically examine one's self. To be truly self aware and I think that Goshen would be making a statement and providing an example because let's face it Goshen wasn't the only community it was amongst thousands of communities,” says Berry. 

Berry and Shenk also say the purpose is not to dwell in the past but move forward, with Goshen being a national leader in dealing with race relations.

“So Goshen isn't the only one but, it would in making such a statement, stand out.” 
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