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PEKIN, IL A SUNDOWN TOWN


A sundown town is a town, city, or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns”.


When I was a youth in Peoria, IL stories were floating around about Pekin, IL hating Black people. 50 years ago a cousin was killed across the water. Some say it was in Pekin. His body was never to be found.

In 2006, Pekin High School in Pekin, IL whose mascot used to be the "Chinks" but was changed following pressure by Chinese Americans groups. It's high school switched to a different athletic conference, primarily so its teams would not have to play interracial teams from Peoria. A series of incidents involving white racist taunts, etc., had marred football and basketball games when Peoria teams journeyed to Pekin. Most if not all teams in the new league are from sundown towns. A Pekin student once said to a student from Peoria Manual: "Go back across the river, nigger!"

All because Pekin was a Sundown town.


Although Illinois was a "free" state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois, which had been largely settled by Southerners, some of whom were slaveholders before the state was admitted to the union. Cities with pro-slavery sentiment included Peoria and Pekin (see Charles L. Dancey's "Pekin, KKK, blacks: It goes back to Copperheads, Union League," Peoria Journal Star, 13 April 1989). According to the 1949 Pekin "Centenary," p. 15. The city had an identity and reputation as a sundown town; it was known to be hostile to black residents and few settled there. On the other hand, some Pekin church pastors participated in the civil rights marches of the 1960s, and U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen from Pekin was integral to achieving passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.