Sundown towns were municipalities in which people of color were permitted to enter and work during the day, but were barred from after dusk.1 Across the country, this exclusion primarily targeted Black people, but in many sundown towns of Southern California, people of Mexican, Latin American, Asian, and Native American descent were also specifically excluded. “Sundown town” was not an official designation, nor did one singular law or explicit policy of exclusion deem a city a sundown town. Rather, sundown towns were created and enforced by a system of policies and cultural norms.
South Pasadena is one of many California cities that has received this designation for the totality of its racially restrictive covenants, in the eyes of both historians and even contemporaries. During the same time period that Jim Crow ruled the American South, a 1947 newspaper described South Pasadena as “an example of the extreme to which the trend toward restrictive racial and religious covenants can go.” The article went on to explain that South Pasadena’s exclusion of non-white residents was “a matter of official policy.” As codified by city policy, non-whites were only allowed to live in the city if working as live-in “servants, caretakers, and in similar menial work.” All other people of color “must be outside [city] limits by nightfall.”3
There is evidence to suggest that South Pasadena even had a citywide air-raid system that sounded an alarm at dusk each night to signify that people of color were to leave city limits or face law enforcement.2 Many sundown towns have a well-documented history of police brutality and excessive force to ensure the absence of people of color after dark.1
As Tiger Newspaper cites, the City Manager of South Pasadena in 1946, Frank Clough, stated on the record that, “We do not have any Negroes, nor do we have any other non-Caucasian people in South Pasadena.”
South Pasadena’s racially restrictive covenants specifically excluded Mexican and Asian Americans. However, city policy allowed Native American residents–a contradiction in keeping with the senseless and inconsistent bigotry of sundown town policy across Southern California and the nation as a whole. The first Mexican-American resident of South Pasadena, a USC professor named Manuel Servin, was able to purchase a home in 1964 in disobedience of city policy–and only because city officials mistook him for Native American.3
The following sections further describe racist and discriminatory policies in action during the sundown era of South Pasadena: specifically, our role in Japanese incarceration, segregation at The Plunge, and the legacy of redlining.
1. Route 66 News. “Should Route 66 towns that were sundown towns apologize?” Route 66 News. January 21, 2014. https://www.route66news.com/2014/01/21/route-66-towns-former-sundown-towns-apologize/
2. Kuhn, Noah. “We Need to Teach our History of Racism.” Tiger Newspaper. August 2, 2019. https://tigernewspaper.com/we-need-to-teach-our-history-of-racism/
3. Loewen, James. W. Sundown Towns. New Press, 2005.