Sundown Towns and the Value of Crowdsourced Data A Data Physicalization by Karyn Hladik-Brown
Despite the fact that thousands of Sundown Towns have, or still do, exist in the United States, it is difficult to find concrete data on where they were and what white citizens of those towns did. This is generally because knowledge of Sundown Towns was often spread orally, through Black folks warning each other and the word eventually spreading; a more formalized version of this process can be seen in Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for Black travelers that was created through crowdsourced anecdotes.
Image of the 1946 edition of Green's "The Negro Motorist Green Book" courtesy of The Library of Congress. View scans of the entire text here.
After finding Loewen's data set, I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that his website was the only place someone could find a compilation of Sundown Towns across the country. These are places that are still talked about and still exist today — so why aren't there more directories of where these places are?
To physicalize this data, I took a road atlas and used white-out to remove every town, city, county, and community that was included in Loewen’s list as a confirmed or probable Sundown Town. Not every town in Loewen's dataset is represented. Some of the places no longer exist, or there were typos in the database. And even though I used the most detailed atlas I could find (for city limits and county borders), some towns were not labeled in the atlas. For the sake of accuracy, I decided not to estimate locations for places not labeled.
Through this physicalization, I hope to show viewers the danger that has and continues to exist for Black and other minoritized travelers across the United States, as well to show the vast areas of land in the U.S. that have been made unaccessible to members of minoritized groups.
To accompany the pictures and video on this page, I also created an annotated Google Map featuring the Sundown Towns from my dataset. If Loewen's data set also included information on how members of minoritized groups were excluded, I included that information in the place's description.