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La Crosse’s mayor has acknowledged his city’s history as a “sundown town” that all but eliminated its black population and promised to make amends.

“We’ve got issues and are not shirking away from those issues,” Mayor Tim Kabat said. “We recognize this is a problem and need to do something about it.”

Sociologist James Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and most recently “Sundown Towns,” spoke Thursday evening at a City Hall forum about La Crosse’s history of freezing out blacks.

A visiting professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Loewen visited La Crosse to talk about his research into America’s centuries of racism and the cover-up by white historians of that history. “Sundown towns” are cities and villages with either formal laws or informal codes of conduct that segregated black people out of communities in northern states.

A video presentation by UW-L graduate Jenny DeRocher on senior capstone project about the history La Crosse’s black residents pointed out that the city’s black population went from 1 to 2 percent in the late 1800s to less than a hundredth of a percent black by the mid-1900s. That fits Loewen’s definition of a sundown town.

In response, La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat has promised to apologize on behalf of the city for that history as one of the steps moving forward.

Loewen spent his day in La Crosse at the invitation of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s climate office and Institute for Social Justice, the city’s Human Rights Commission and other partners. They brought Loewen here after people who attended a Philadelphia conference on white privilege earlier this year heard him speak about K-12 history education.

At UW-L, Loewen shared in a forum his experiences researching how U.S. history is whitewashed by many textbooks, and he talked about the examples he chronicled in “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” He also held a workshop on teaching history, focusing on Native American history and the lies that have been taught about that. More than 400 people attended the forum in a packed Valhalla room at Cartwright Center, and another 80 education majors and local teachers participated in the workshop.

Loewen said he first encountered the subject of the whitewashing of history when teaching at Tougaloo College, a historically black college in Mississippi. One of the examples of bogus history students are taught in high school is a version of post-Civil War reconstruction in which Southern blacks took political power and whites had to step in when blacks messed it up.

“I watched as a black teacher taught white supremacist B.S. to a black class because that is what was in the book,” Loewen said. That led him to review more than a dozen history textbooks over the years and co-author a textbook himself.

During the workshop, Loewen said that seemingly thorough textbooks skip important historical facts, such as the forced relocation of Native American tribes. In one textbook, he counted more than 2,000 “essential terms.”

“I call this twig history,” he said. “We are not even missing the forest for the trees. We’re focusing on all the twigs.”

Rather, he said, teachers need to focus on 30 to 50 major topics relevant to their students and approach them from multiple perspectives.

People packed City Hall’s Common Council Chambers as Loewen spoke about his research, which he started in his home state of Illinois.

He figured he might find 50 sundown towns spread across the country. He has so far uncovered more than 200 in Illinois, showing both how common the phenomenon was and how efforts to enforce segregation in the north were hidden in plain sight.

Some sundown towns were explicit, with signs telling blacks, Jews or other minorities to be out of town by sunset. Others, such as La Crosse, used less formal methods to keep blacks from moving in and pressuring those already living here to move out.

DeRocher found that La Crosse froze out blacks by segregating the downtown, and by using derogatory language to refer to blacks or black neighborhoods to create a hostile environment. A large Ku Klux Klan presence in La Crosse in the 1920s could easily have intimidated the black population.

“In 1890, select white residents worked to create a dominantly white population,” she said in the video. “There are lasting effects that make this narrative a problem for African-Americans.”

Several residents shared their own experiences of the lasting effects this heritage has had on the community. Some spoke of the racist attacks they or their children experienced when they first moved to La Crosse, while others spoke about how hard it is to break through structures that produce a predominantly white leadership.

Bill Coleman, a retired La Crosse School District teacher and recipient of the La Crosse MLK Jr. Leadership Award, came to La Crosse in 1971. He was one of the only teachers of color to stay in La Crosse for the long term. White leaders have promised to tackle the issue of race before, only for Coleman to see their words ring hollow as efforts fizzled out.

“Don’t let it fall,” he said. “I’m kinda sick of seeing good stuff happening and then all of a sudden people disappear.”

“I keep hearing from these people of power saying they support us and then they turn their backs on us,” said Tracy Littlejohn, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation said of an effort to provide free diversity training. “They (expletive) us over again. I’m getting tired of it.”

Shaundel Spivey, a member of the La Crosse Human Rights Commission, said that along with the mayor’s apology, the group has decided to document the city’s history, from stealing Ho-Chunk land to the present day, in a traveling display that will first be housed at City Hall. The mayor, city council and county board members, and others will sign the apology, Spivey said.

From there the commission will look for ways to move forward and promote positive change in the community, he said, asking for volunteers from among the participants and organizations present Thursday night.

“We’re at a point where we can admit La Crosse is a sundown town,” he said. “The question now is where we go from here and what we want to achieve.”

At UW-L, Loewen shared his experiences researching how U.S. history is whitewashed, using examples he chronicled in “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”

Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

(33) comments


Hitler was born in Austria


Mr.Mayor, you have no right to apologize for anything that has happened in this town, which I was born in. Equal rights have been achieved long ago, and this needs to fade away.

You have no right to apologize for something I, I native of this city, never did.

Handy timing though, we have a black suing the PD, and the election is around the corner. Stick to legit politics, not this sticky knee-jerking whining.


Speak for yourself. As our elected mayor, Kabat does have that right. And apologizing for atrocities is the right thing to do.


I was speaking for myself. pfft
he's one man, we're a community ... stick to politics ... Mayor.


The sociologist and the historian may want to mention most of the KKK's activities in La Crosse were anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. What they are portraying is inaccurate.


Redwall, a point WELL taken. The La Crosse KKK was mostly interested in spewing hatred against Catholic and Jewish people, and almost certainly would have gladly embraced the humanity and human rights of the city's African American citizens. At least that is what I gather you are trying to say. You are SUCH a scholar and ethicist. Are you suggesting it is time for a revival of the La Crosse KKK? A vote for Trump would certainly buttress that possibility, I guess, given his relationship with David Duke.


You mean the Donald Trump who doesn't have a relationship with David Duke? That Donald Trump? Just keep spreading the lies, oldhomey, and you'll be joining me in the liars hall of fame!

Here's another link for you to ignore, buddy. Have not at it!


No, that's ok, your comprehension is incomprehensible.

The activities of the La Crosse KKK were short lived and mostly aimed at Catholics and Jews, as the black population was low. Most La Crosse Catholics and Jews, at that time, were of German and Austrian stock.

I havent heard of any stories of Catholics or Jews being run out of La Crosse, but maybe someone knows differently. However fights and other incidents were not that uncommon. Maybe we should demand an apology from the mayor. Maybe we need a park repleat with swingsets to make things right.


My ancestors have been here for many generations (probably more than the mayor's). The mayor is not authorized to apologize for them or me. Done nothing to apologize for.

It is important to learn from history. Yes the KKK did burn crosses on Grandad's Bluff. To infer everyone was part of that or that there is some guilt by association due to national origin, place of residence, or color is dishonest and smacks of racism.

Is this a run-up to some sort of $ shake-down?


Oh, almost certainly, Redwall. You'll soon have blue-haired old ladies knocking on your door, suggesting a reparations donation of, say, $75 a month, with a nod to "out of town" goons sitting in fancy pimpmobiles outside your door, armed to the teeth with open carry semi-automatic rifles. The old ladies' won't say much else, but their cynical laughter will tell the whole story. When will society learn that liberal old ladies are really shake-down artists? Its important to learn from history.


Well bozo since the GOP under Coolidge ran the country in the 20's you may have to rethink your stupidity.


[alien][alien][alien]Are La Crosse Germans really Slavic? I couldn't find, as yet, the old Trib article that says that more than half of La Crosse Germans are actually Czechs with German names.. it would appear that most of the local Germans aren't actually German.

"The Schwalbes and the Schuberts came to America together from Bohemia (the Czech Republic) in 1867, and although both families settled in La Crosse, spent time together in the early days and through intermarriage share some common ancestors, there never has been a full-fledged reunion of descendants."

"The Czech Republic has a population of 10,339,000. Of that number, 81.3 percent claim to be of Czech ethnic origin; 13.2 percent are Moravian; and the remaining 4.5 percent belong to other groups, notably Slovak, Polish, German, Silesian, Romany (Gypsy), Hungarian, or Ukrainian.

random annoying bozo

mach, how much does the crooked Hillary campaign pay you for trolling message boards? do they pay $15 an hour? a living wage? or were you promised a couple pair of 'crazy eyes' used undies for a job well done?


[alien][alien][alien]I was hired by Trump University to do a sociological study on honesty. No lie.

“I'm getting a daily email from Microsoft which I have been ignoring that states a hacker is trying to access my account. As far as the Microsoft account goes, the hacker can have it...along with all of the nasty Windows 10 upgrade problems!”
― Steven Magee


...and your point is what?


[innocent][innocent][innocent]Sweet Polly Purebred ain't as purebred as she thought.

Sweet Polly Purebread


La Crosse is not a “Nordic” city, it is a German city. And why would anyone feel it is wrong for Scandinavians to want to preserve their heritage, and have grandchildren with blond hair and blue eyes. Also throughout history Scandinavians have been the most peaceful and non aggressive people on the planet. Also since we only like to associate among our clans, sociologist like this meat head consider it a character flaw. Asians also keep to themselves, mind their own business, work hard and throughout history have been peaceful. Except they are not considered bigots if they want their children to build a life with someone who is also Asian.


[thumbdown][thumbdown][thumbdown]Boognish: "La Crosse is not a “Nordic” city, it is a German city. And why would anyone feel it is wrong for Scandinavians to want to preserve their heritage, and have grandchildren with blond hair and blue eyes."

A: Germans are not Scandinavians, if I'm reading your comment correctly... most Germans are much more dark-complected. Look at how dark Hitler and Himmler were.. many Germans think Hitler was Italian and Himmler was Jewish.

B: Most La Crosse 'Germans,' more than half, are actually Slavic, Czech to be more precise: the Trib posted an article on this decades ago. These migrants to La Crosse came largely from the Bohemia, with German names but Czech ancestry.

C: La Crosse is not a German city.. the name ought to give it away. The town was French and is now part of the English-speaking world. Then there's this entity we know and love called the USA...

Stars and Stripes Forever - John Philip Sousa


Swedes, Norwegians and Finlanders are Scandinavian, and Lacrosse is NOT a Nordic or Scandinavian city as you ignorantly implied. But you are correct that Germans, Italians, French and for the most part Europeans are dark skinned, dark eyed and dark hair. And have been the most violet race in the world.


[lol][lol][lol]You implied that. Go read what you wrote. Read it well.

Violet race? Say what?


Swedes, Norwegians and Finlanders are Scandinavian, and Lacrosse is NOT a Nordic or Scandinavian city as you implied. But you are correct that Germans, Italians, French and for the most part Europeans are dark skinned, dark eyed and dark hair. And have been the most violet race in the world.


Hmm. "Asians also keep to themselves, mind their own business, work hard and throughout history have been peaceful." Right. Except for the little matter of the Japanese militarists in the 20th century taking over China, Korea, Indochina, the Philippines, Papua-New Guinea, etc. And the Chinese annexing Tibet and now claiming the South China Seas as their own, not to mention their attempt to bolster North Korean claims to South Korea in the 1950s. And the North Vietnamese insisting on annexing South Vietnam, a small "police action" that the U.S. entered into, as it did in South Korea in the 1950s, but so small that Boognish seems to have overlooked it. There's more, but that is enough for now.

The Swedes and Norwegians in the 19th century would be shocked to hear that the Danes were peaceful, non-aggressive people. And the Norwegians seemed quite delirious, also, from breaking the bonds from the Swedes.

If you want to stare racism in the face, it is in this sentence: "Also since we only like to associate among our clans, sociologist like this meat head consider it a character flaw." Number one, I defy Boognish to produce a significant number of Norwegian-American families that existed in La Crosse at the turn of the 20th century that are largely still Norwegian now that we are in the early 21st century. There are some, no doubt, but they would be the exception to the rule. Most people today can't account for who their ancestors were beyond their grandparents, and most seem not much to care what their ethnic roots are.

And by the way, I came from a 100 percent Norwegian family, and any number of them had coal black, red and brown hair. Preserving your heritage is a fine notion, one that I subscribe to, but to make it into a racist quest is quite another thing, Boognish. You sound like something that comes out of a nose after a violent sneeze.


Having been born and raised in La Crosse I have to say any sundown laws were informal. Yes the Klan was present in the 20's. My mother would tell us about a large burning cross on Granddad's Bluff. Segregation isn't the same as sundown laws but I don't disbelieve the stories about Armstrong, etc. La Crosse reflected the national race view. Better than some and worse than others. Should the mayor acknowledge that? Yes. And than we need to move on and make everyone welcome.

random annoying bozo

the Klan? are you referring to the group that was formed to be the enforcement arm of the democrat party so that blacks wouldn't stray too far from the planation, but made sure they were obedient to their new masters, the democrat party plantation??


[alien][alien][alien]The bigoted Dixiecrats are all Republicans now.. therefore you should abandon the Republican Party.


[alien][alien][alien]'Sociologist James Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and most recently “Sundown Towns,” spoke Thursday evening at a City Hall forum about La Crosse’s history of freezing out blacks.'

It's still in place, but the methodology is more subtle and it involves other races and ethnic groups, not only blacks—Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Hispanics, Arabs, Poles, Italians and so on get the 'ice cube' treatment here. Nordic 'Aryan' whites don't want their daughters and sons to mix genetically with non-Nordic peoples, hence the 'Sundown' thing. They're happy to get the cheap labor, just don't intermarry, don't ask for the better jobs, don't ask for political power, don't ask for management positions, don't get too uppity.

For example, you won't find blacks journalists in this city—they might break certain unwritten codes of silence about the corrupt power structure that exists here. The local white elites won't see anything wrong because they see their birthright positions of power as normal and as merit-based instead of heredity-based. I'm not from this city therefore I see things from the position of an outsider; I see how local businesses and employees make life difficult for minority workers.

‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias

The Justice Department undertook its own investigation and, in 1973, sued Trump Management for discriminating against blacks. Both Fred Trump, the company’s chairman, and Donald Trump, its president, were named as defendants. It was front-page news, and for Donald, amounted to his debut in the public eye.


"You Einsatztruppen (task forces) are called upon to fulfill a repulsive duty. But you are soldiers who have to carry out every order unconditionally. You have a responsibility before God and Hitler for everything that is happening. I myself hate this bloody business and I have been moved to the depths of my soul. But I am obeying the highest law by doing my duty. Man must defend himself against bedbugs and rats ― against vermin."

Heinrich Himmler, in a speech to the SS guards, (“Hitler’s Elite, Shocking Profiles of the Reich’s Most Notorious Henchmen,” Berkley Books, 1990)


[ohmy][ohmy][ohmy]...should be "black journalists"..

"We have a feeling that Germany has been transformed into a great house of God, including all classes, professions and creeds, where the Fuhrer as our mediator stood before the throne of the Almighty."

— Joseph Goebbels, in a radio broadcast, 19 April 1936


Back in the 70's I worked at Nino's Steak house in what was the old Avelon ball room. The maintenance man had been with the building since the 1930's. He told me that Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington had to sleep in the building after their performance because of the sundowner law. He then took me upstairs and showed me the old posters for those performances. When I told my mom about this she agreed it had happened. When she went to college here in the 1940's, there was a sign at the city limits that said "Black man, don't let the sun set on your here." My question is, will they replace the sign on Nathan Hill commemorating a black man that HAD to live outside the city limits?

random annoying bozo

I would suggest that you bone up on local history, Nathan Smith was not forced to live outside of the city of lacrosse limits, he chose to. also I seriously doubt your 'recollection' of 'second hand' information about a sign posted at the city limits.

nice try though, i'll give you a c+ for your attempt to rewrite local history.


you are correct bozo.


Show your source of history.



So 'fled' = chose?

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