* Logan Jaffe with ProPublica Illinois writing in The Atlantic…
I got into town just after sunset. The lights were on at a place called the Brick House Grill, and if you were out on South Main Street on a Friday night in February, chances are, that’s where you were going. So I went in, too.
I took a seat at the bar. A man two stools over from me struck up a conversation. I told him I was a journalist from Chicago and asked him to tell me about this town. “You know how this town is called Anna?” he started. “That’s for ‘Ain’t No N*****s Allowed.’” He laughed, shook his head, and took a sip of his beer.
The man was white. I am white. Everyone else in that restaurant in Anna was white.
Later that night, I realized what shook me most about our conversation: He didn’t pause before he said what he said. He didn’t look around the room to see whether anyone could hear us. He didn’t lower his voice. He just said it.
Anyone who has ever spent much time in southern Illinois knows about A-N-N-A.
Hartline grew up in Cobden, the town just north of Anna. He’s been Anna’s mayor for nearly 20 years, and he served in its police department for 15 years before that. He said he can’t think of a single incident in Anna that had race at its center that had taken place in his years of public service.
But these incidents happened. In March 2013, four young white men attacked a black 16-year-old in a parking lot behind a furniture store on Main Street. According to police reports, one of the suspects allegedly tried to sodomize the victim with either a tire iron or an ax handle. Although one of the young men told police they attacked the victim because he was black, the police did not charge the four men with a hate crime.
In 2017, in the aftermath of the white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a white Anna resident named Tabitha Tripp said at a Union County board meeting that she was concerned about hate incidents in the county, and she asked the county commissioners to consider a resolution, identical to one that had recently passed the Illinois House, condemning hate groups.
The proposal was never brought up for a vote, in part because commissioners said they didn’t believe it was their job to address such concerns. “The more you talk about it, it just creates that issue more,” Max Miller, Union County’s board chairman, told me. “I just didn’t think it was worth talking about.”
Some sundown towns in the Midwest have begun to confront their legacies. In March 2015, the city council of Goshen, Indiana, voted 6–0 to pass “A Resolution Acknowledging the Racially Exclusionary Past of Goshen, Indiana, as a ‘Sundown Town.’” In late 2016, the mayor of La Crosse, Wisconsin, formally apologized for the city’s history of racial exclusion and signed a proclamation to work toward racial equality. “We’ve got issues and are not shirking away from those issues,” Mayor Tim Kabat, who is white, told the La Crosse Tribune. “We recognize this is a problem and need to do something about it.”
The Union County Board of Commissioners is all white. So is the Anna city council, the Anna Police Department, and every teacher at Anna-Jonesboro High School, the public high school serving Anna. “I wish we had more diversity on our staff,” said Brett Detering, the school’s principal.
There’s lots more, so go read the whole thing.