Was Edmond a Sundown Town?

A sundown town is one that either directly through ordinances, or indirectly through intimidation and other factors, maintained an all-white population, forbidding minorities, specifically African Americans, from living in the all-white town. Sundown towns take their name from signs that were often located at the edge of town warning African American people that they were not allowed in town after dark; those signs would often read “N*****, don’t let the sun set on you in [town name].” Sundown towns could be found across the United States.

One of the most common topics museum staff receive are questions regarding if Edmond was a sundown town. In our review of the City of Edmond ordinances in the 1920s and 1940s, as well as the early City Council meeting minutes, we were unable to find any specific ordinance or law prohibiting African Americans from living in Edmond.

In the book “A Route 66 Companion” edited by David King Dunaway, Edmond Threatt, an African American, recounts growing up in the nearby town of Luther. He states that Edmond was, in fact, a sundown town, complete with a sign reading, “Don’t let the sun set on you in this town.” Recalling a visit to the Edmond train station to pick up his sister, Threatt attempted to order a sandwich at a café, but was told to go around back. Threatt opted to leave instead. The police stopped him on his way out of town and questioned him for “stirring up a little peace” and told him to get out of town. Threatt also stated that if African Americans had property in Edmond, “They would burn ‘em out and wouldn’t let them rebuild” or they would put a sign there that said, “We had the Health Department up to check your house, it’s not livable, you can’t live there no more’ and then, they give him a few dollars for it.”

James “Buzz” Forsythe poses in front of a projector at an Edmond theater, circa 1951.

Longtime Edmond resident James “Buzz” Forsythe, who was born in Edmond in 1933, worked as a projectionist at both the Gem and Broncho Theaters while in high school in the early 1950s. In his memoir, Forsythe states that Edmond had a “sundown law” and recalled an incident from the summer of 1951 while he was working at the Gem Theater. A young African American man who had missed his bus, purchased a movie ticket to get out of the summer heat while he waited for the next bus. Shortly after the young man entered the theater, the police arrived and escorted him out of town. Mr. Forsythe, who was 18 at the time, remembered having mixed feelings and feeling ashamed about it at the time.

Edmond High School graduate Stella Barton Fordice graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1927. Her master’s thesis was titled “History of Edmond, Oklahoma” and is one of the earliest histories of Edmond recorded. It recounts the town’s founding and early days. At the end of her chapter on public schools in Edmond, Fordice states that:

“Early in its history Edmond passed an ordinance forbidding more Negroes to locate in the town. Gradually those living there moved away. About 1905 they were told that their numbers did not justify a separate school. Then sometime later when only two Negro families remained in town the citizens signed a petition asking that they move away. They moved without any disturbance.”

Fordice, Stella Barton. 1927. History of Edmond, Oklahoma.

For her source on this information, Fordice cites an interview with I.W. Rodkey, owner of the prominent Eagle Mill that had been in Edmond since 1897.

Regardless if there was an ordinance in Edmond or not, people outside the town viewed Edmond as an all-white town, because that’s how Edmondites promoted the town. Local business owners, students at Central State College, and even the Chamber of Commerce all advertised Edmond as 100% white, with no African American population from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. In addition to boasting that the town was 100% white, Edmond residents also made sure that no African Americans, or even most people of color, owned property in Edmond from the 1910s until the late 1940s, through racially restrictive covenants. A third barrier that succeeded in keeping African Americans out of Edmond was the establishment of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Edmond in 1922. These three factors ensured that Edmond was an all-white town until the 1970s.