Exclusion: Overview


After the Civil War, many Black Americans sought new homes. Reconstruction (1865-1877) brought some protections and freedoms for formerly enslaved people. Nevertheless, white governmental institutions and social codes created persistent systemic inequalities. Sundown towns, racial covenants and redlining are a few examples of exclusion in DeKalb County.

After Reconstruction, Northern and Southern communities excluded Black people – and sometimes others, such as Jews – through violent attacks, public policies, or evictions. Named for signs at city limits warning non-whites to leave by sunset, sundown towns often enforced unwritten but well-known racial laws. Historian James Loewen has identified 507 potential sundown communities in Illinois. Many bear marks of their not-so-distant pasts and remain overwhelmingly white. DeKalb is listed as “possibl[y]” a sundown town on Loewen’s website; however, reader comments suggest it was more likely than not. [1]

In 1934, in response to mass homelessness caused by the Great Depression, President Roosevelt established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to regulate interest rates and mortgages, making homes more affordable. Unfortunately, these policies applied to white families only. The FHA also created color-coded maps of US metropolitan regions. Areas with high populations of Black people were colored red (“redlined”), indicating they were too risky for appraisers to insure. Behind these strategies was the assumption that Black homes brought down the value of neighboring residences.

Smaller communities drew up restrictive covenants which were “agreements entered into by a group of property owners, subdivision developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, [or] rent . . . to specified groups because of race, creed, or color…”[2] Racial covenants can be found in subdivisions located in Sycamore and DeKalb. There is even a cemetery that had racial restrictions that dates to 1951.

Image: Abstract of Title to Ellfield Addition. 12 August 1925. DeKalb, IL. In the collection of the Ellwood House Museum.

[1] James W. Loewen, “Sundown Towns”

[2] Colin Gordon, “Mapping Decline: St Louis and the Fate of the American City” (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2008), 71.

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