On August 21, former President Donald Trump will speak at a “Save America” rally in Cullman, Alabama.
According to a statement from the Save America PAC, the rally, which coincides with the Alabama Republican Party’s summer meeting, will focus on “President Trump’s continued support of the MAGA agenda and accomplishments of President Trump’s Administration.”
What is not being reported in the news, or by the Save America PAC, is the Cullman, Alabama is a notorious sundown town.
Sundown towns, also known as sunset towns, gray towns, or sundowner towns, are all-white communities or municipalities in the United States that practice racial segregation by excluding non-whites through a combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation, or violence.
Many of these towns marked their city limits with signs typically reading, “N****r, don’t let the sun go down on you here.”
Although this was widely more popular in our not to distant past, these town still exist today, and southern people of color are well aware of them.
In Wikipedia regarding the town of Cullman, Alabama, the threat is mentioned.
During the 1890s, and still to this day, Cullman was reported to be a sundown town, where African Americans were not allowed to live. The Ku Klux Klan would maintain a presence in the county throughout the civil rights movement, erecting signs that deterred African Americans from being within the county at night.
Ben Windham, who was a long time editor and columnist for Tuscaloosatimes.com named “Cullman’s’ sundown town’ image worthy of study.”
In this he describes what he and others know about Cullman’s sundown town history.
Cullman was a sundown town. It displayed a sign that said “N****r, don’t the let the sun go down on your head [some versions used a different body part] in this town.”
Or so the story went.
I never actually saw such a sign, though I lived for years in northern Alabama. Even some former Cullman residents who told me they had grown up hearing about the sundown sign confessed they’d never actually seen it.
The Internet is full of stories to the contrary, however. One person wrote that his wife told him about a sign saying “Welcome to Cullman,” with a subhead that read, “N****r, don’t let the sun set behind your back.”
Another claimed there was a “huge billboard” right at the Cullman city limits on Highway 278 saying, “N****r, don’t let the sun set on your ‘butt’ in this town” that was on display as late as 1989. A picture of a Klansman and a burning cross accompanied the message — or so the anonymous poster claimed.
Charles Tisdale, publisher of the Jackson, Miss., Advocate, wrote in a 2000 column that Cullman posted a sign “for many, many years” on its main street that read “N****r Read & Run. If you can’t read, just run.”
Another writer claimed the same message was on a series of signs modeled on the old Burma-Shave advertisements, posted one after the other on a road leading to Cullman.
One of the Internet authors even claimed that though Cullman’s sundown sign was dismantled years ago, it remains in storage in the basement of the county courthouse.
The widely differing accounts led me to lean toward thinking that the sundown sign in Cullman was just an urban (or country) myth. Even Loewen’s book, which identifies Cullman as one of the cities with a “national reputation” as a sundown town — its percentage of black residents in 2000 was 0.7, according to the U.S. Census — does not mention a sign.
If there is any doubt to his testimony, he describes further a conversation he had with an infamous former resident, and the formation of a town nearby that was “all black,” to house the black day workers in Cullman.
Cullman, however, needed black day workers.
According to Loewen, that resulted in the establishment of a community about 20 miles south of Cullman that was virtually all African-American.
It existed, he writes, to house the black labor pool that was excluded from living in Cullman — maids, janitors, handymen. Blacks and whites alike called it “The Colony.”
Its residents commuted to Cullman via carpool, taking care to leave town before sunset. It had its own elementary school but before federal law forced the desegregation of the Cullman County schools in the 1970s, its children had to attend high school in another county.
In 1980, it incorporated as Colony. Its mayor, Earlene Johnson, is the only black mayor in Cullman County.
According to a recent newspaper report, Johnson told a meeting of officials from seven communities in the county this January of the horror stories about Cullman’s racism that she heard as a youngster in other parts of the state. Dealing with the lingering negative image continues to be a problem, she said.
Still, I had doubts about anything as blatant as a sign or a billboard in Cullman instructing blacks to leave town before sunset. If anyone knew for sure, I figured it would be former state Rep. Tom Drake.
Drake, who grew up in Cullman County, served for 32 years in the Legislature. One of the most powerful politicians in Alabama, he served two terms as Speaker of the House. He was a floor leader for three governors.
I didn’t always agree with Drake’s politics. But I respect him as a straight shooter, a man not afraid to speak his mind.
He was typically frank about the Cullman sundown issue.
“Yes,” he told me, “there used to be signs on the railroad track, at the county line and all that. ‘Nigger, don’t let the sun set on your head in Cullman County.’ ”
If the implications are not clear enough regarding Trump’s team’s choice in location, the other factor to understand is that the city of Cullman has recorded nearly 100 COVID-19 cases in the last week as the highly contagious Delta variant ravages the region, according to a report from the local CBS affiliate.
The city of 15,000 people is set to host another large event, Rock the South, the weekend before Trump’s rally.
Cullman Regional Medical Center’s hospitalizations are also on the rise.
“The numbers were not nearly as high as they were back toward the peak, but they are rising. And anytime that they rise, it’s disappointing,” Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs said.
Dr. Don Williamson of the Alabama Hospital Association added, “At this point, because of how infectious this virus is, we simply have a wonderful opportunity for any number of events around the state to be superspreader events.”
According to the Alabama Political Reporter, the state only 6 percent of its ICU beds, or 87 beds, available on Monday, and that is the lowest number since January.
“We are now fighting a two front war. We are not only fighting COVID, but we are also fighting misinformation,” Williamson said.
Williamson noted that, in addition to the virus, officials in the deeply red state are fighting vaccine and mask resistance.
Approximately 94 percent of COVID patients admitted to Alabama hospitals are unvaccinated. At 34.9 percent, the state has the lowest vaccination rate in the country.
Not for the first time in our history, we have the combination of our former president, anti-vaxxers, extreme COVID numbers, and the worst racism in the US.
Just another day in Trumpland.