Norman leaders condemn 'sundown town' history

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – City leaders in one Oklahoma community are publicly condemning and apologizing for a dark period in Oklahoma’s history.

They were known as ‘sundown towns,’  all white towns where black Americans were not welcome after the sun went down.

“We had several sunset towns where there might be a sign posted coming into town. All people of colors should be out of town before sundown,” Dr. George Henderson told News 4 in 2018.

Historians say there were more than 50 sundown towns in Oklahoma, including Edmond and Norman.

“Black people knew that Norman was not a place that you would stay beyond daylight,” said Henderson.

George and Barbara Henderson were warned when they moved to Norman in 1967. They were the first African-Americans to buy a home in the town when George got a job at OU, becoming the university’s third full-time African-American faculty member.

“They said, ‘Don’t go. Norman is not a place for black people.’ He said, ‘Don’t go. You’ll be miserable,’” said George and Barbara.

They ignored the warnings and soon felt the push back from the community.

“People would come and throw dirt, throw trash on the lawn. A feeble attempt at making a cross was thrown on the lawn. And I had a car that was egged,” said the Hendersons.

At one point, they say their 5-year-old daughter was threatened with a gun by a neighbor.

Despite the threats, he stayed and ended up playing a pivotal role in the city’s transition to a more inclusive community.

“Sundown towns are markers. They tell us how far we have gone or not gone. Norman’s not a sundown town now,” said George.

On Tuesday, the Norman City Council passed a unanimous proclamation to publicly condemn and apologize for that history.

Dr. Henderson was personally recognized and received a standing ovation during the city council meeting.

Dr. George Henderson in Norman
Dr. George Henderson recognized at city council meeting in Norman

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