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Nevada Finally Bans Racist 'Sundown Sirens' That Told People Of Color When To Leave Town

Photo: BestStockFoto / Shutterstock
Governor Steve Sisolak

If you are unaware of what a "sundown siren" is, class is in session. 

It's 2021 and Nevada has finally banned the use of these awful, historically racist sirens. It was a good move for Governor Steve Sisolak to pass a law banning the use of them, but why did it take so long? At what point did he or previous governors realize that the sundown siren, which was created during the prime of the Jim Crow era, was racist and offensive? 

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What is a sundown siren? 

To understand what a sundown siren is we have to start at what a sundown town is.

 During the Jim Crow era, roughly around the 1860s following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, cities, and states passed laws legalizing racial segregation.

These laws not only marginalized African Americans but other people of color as well. Meaning if you were not white or couldn’t pass for white, certain rights didn’t include you. Every part of your life was dictated by these laws. Where you used the bathroom, sat in a theater, ate at a restaurant, the school you attended, what part of town you lived in… all of it depended on the color of your skin.  

Fast forward to the early 1900s, when many people of color began leaving the South and moving west because of racism, poverty, and overall abuse. White people didn’t mind people of color leaving the south as long as they didn’t settle down in their town. To preserve their all-white communities, they began posting various warning signs at city limits. 

Sundown Towns are all-white communities, neighborhoods, or counties that exclude Blacks and other minorities through the use of discriminatory laws, harassment, and threats or use of violence.

These infamous towns allowed people of color to work and travel through the communities during the daytime, but once the sun set, it was best that they weren't caught within city limits. Those that were still within city limits were subject to beatings, jail time, and even death.

The sundown sirens notified people of color when they had a half hour to leave the all-white cities.

In Minden, Nevada sundown sirens notified Native Americans that it was time to leave. I guess they felt as though they were being “polite.”

They were very literally saying, "Here’s a thirty-minute warning bell before we take harmful action against you."

Surprisingly, the ordinance that banned non-whites within city limits after sunset was repealed, but the siren itself was kept due to “tradition.” 

So, apparently, they just keeping up racially discriminatory practices because of tradition.

When the ordinance was repealed in 1974, the siren should have been retired then. It doesn't take 47 years to realize that the siren is offensive to minorities. 

Many Native American tribes such as the Washoe Tribe still live in the area and find the use of the sirens offensive.

On June 7, when Governor Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 88 into legislation, it also prohibited a school’s use of "a name, logo, mascot, song or other identifier associated with the Confederate States of America or a Federally recognized Indian tribe," except when a tribe has specifically given a school permission to do so. That's one bill with two big steps in the right direction. 

Sadly, not everyone finds sundown sirens offensive. Minden town manager J.D. Frisby believes Minden is exempt from this bill due to their siren being used to "honor volunteer firefighters."

It is hard to believe that this same siren that was used as a sundown siren is now being used as an honorary device for first responders. It even goes off at the same time as it did in 1974. It sounds as though Minden just wants to hold on to it's racially discriminatory practices.

Governor Sisolak should be applauded for finally banning the sundown sirens.

This will further strengthen relationships with the Native American population of Nevada. This decision does come at a questionable time.

During the racial state of our nation, many public officials are scrambling to show their support for minority communities.

In other states who are holding on to racially discriminatory and offensive memorabilia for simply "tradition," it's time to retire them. 

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LaShawnte Burgess is a freelance writer at YourTango that writes Entertainment and News articles.