An effort is currently underway to erect a plaque on the lawn of the Goshen City Hall in acknowledgement of Goshen’s history as a sundown town.The Goshen Community Relations Commission (CRC) is considering installing the historical marker as part of a commitment to creating a more inclusive city.
The term “sundown town” is the name given to towns that practiced the exclusion of people of color from an area after sundown. The practices barred people of color from owning property, starting families and living in certain areas through means of intimidation.
The city of Goshen officially recognized its history as a sundown town in 2015. This came after a 6-0 vote to recognize and move on from the city’s exclusionary past. The initiative to acknowledge that part of the city’s history was started by three community members and eventually backed by the CRC.
AJ Delgadillo, director of community relations for the city of Goshen, said that the marker is meant to educate and accurately portray a time period when Goshen as a community failed to serve people of color.
“The harm was not just the violence done to Black people or the exclusion of opportunity,” he said, “but also the harm done was in distributing the ability to start those institutions: Black-owned businesses and businesses responding to the Black communities.”
“The secondary victims of this social policy were their kids,” Delgadillo said, “and the people of neighboring cities who weren’t able to fully enjoy the amenities of having Goshen as a neighboring city.”
“The tertiary victims are, sort of, everybody. The white students who had limited exposure to people of color, and, therefore, limited growth and world-view building. There are a lot of scattered effects that aren’t clear or linear and hard to understand.”
Delgadillo said that the city should be responsible for making amends.
“There needs to be an explicit invitation and explicit welcome that Black families belong here,” Delgadillo said. “They are welcome here, and that they are valued here.”
Gilberto Perez, Jr., vice president for student life at Goshen College and a member of the Goshen City Council, acknowledged that the college is located in a historically exclusionary city.
Perez said, “We [the college] want to open up these spaces to actually learn about what sundown towns are.”
“These are hard conversations that people just don’t know how to enter into,” Perez said. “I would say that Goshen College and the Community Relations Committee has the power to do those things, and I reiterate that Goshen College is inviting students into those hard spaces.”
The CRC is conducting a survey to determine the text for the memorial plaque. All residents in the Goshen area are welcome to give their input, as well as members of the Goshen College community, who received a link to the survey in the Communicator email for Sep. 9.
“The point of the marker is to heal,” Delgadillo said, “[and] to account for the past wrongs. We don’t want this to be for a number of people to pat themselves on the back for getting this built, but something that is genuinely building community and setting the tone for how we want to proceed into the future.”