Date of Award

5-1-2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Speech Communication

First Advisor

Warren, John

Abstract

Sundown towns are communities with a history of excluding African Americans and that are predominantly White on purpose. Although sundown towns have inevitably changed over time, a number of them continue to be alarmingly White, and their reputations continue to persist. Sundown towns are widespread across the U.S. and despite their prevalence, very little research exists on the topic. Furthermore, sundown towns were largely maintained through oral tradition. In this dissertation, I explore oral history interviews with community residents about the history of sundown towns in southern Illinois. Based on over two years of fieldwork, I examine how community narratives construct present realities of sundown towns in new and nuanced ways. I am also interested in how these narratives function. I argue that race is central to investigating the history of sundown towns and use performance as an analytical tool to understand racial dimensions in community members' stories. I examine how everyday community narratives reveal racialized performances and construct current manifestations of sundown towns. I further examine the process of translating these narratives into a staged performance. Ultimately, I argue that exploring everyday community narratives from the field to the stage allows a heuristic view of the living history of sundown towns. My approach to this study is deeply informed by critical performance ethnography and Critical Race Theory. These methods work together as modes of inquiry that enable analysis of community narratives as well as my role as a researcher, with the aspiration of social change. I enter this research with the agenda to deconstruct racist structures and add to social justice discourses. In this dissertation, I strive to create space for dialogue about sundown towns, race, and racism with various audiences and create possibilities for disrupting this history.

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