From ‘Sundown Town’ to ‘Resolution’

Dan Shenk and Lee Roy Berry Jr. – photo by Richard Aguirre

In March 2015, the Common Council of the City of Goshen unanimously resolved to acknowledge the City’s history as a “sundown town.” In advocating for the resolution, Dan Shenk documented the history of sundown towns in Goshen and beyond in a PowerPoint presentation titled “Goshen, Indiana: From ‘Sundown Town’ in 20th Century to ‘Resolution’ in 21st Century.” The Community Resilience Guild invited Dan to present and record this presentation as part of the Wide Angle Films and Talks series.

The presentation was followed by a conversation principally with Lee Roy Berry Jr., a local attorney and former political science professor who helped champion the passage of the resolution. The conversation invited Lee Roy to reflect on Dan’s presentation, the process and significance of passing the resolution, and on calling Goshen home for almost 50 years.

To learn more about the history of sundown towns in Goshen and explore an archive of relevant information, check out the collections page.

Full Presentation Video

Full Conversation Video

Dan Shenk of Goshen is owner/operator of CopyProof, an editing business. From 1986 to 1999 he was a reporter for the Elkhart Truth, mainly covering Goshen. In September 2013 he began researching Goshen as a “sundown town,” then wrote up his findings for multiple publications, including the Goshen News. He joined forces with Lee Roy Berry Jr. in the fall of 2014 in making presentations to the Goshen Community Relations Commission, Goshen Ministerial Association and Goshen City Council (all three groups backed the resolution unanimously). He is currently writing a book on sports and spirituality. Dan and his wife, Vera, have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Lee Roy Berry Jr. of Goshen is a practicing attorney. After obtaining his law degree from Indiana University in 1985, he began work as a lawyer in Elkhart. In 1991 his practice shifted to Goshen. In 1996 Lee Roy became co-owner with Rita Parsons of a Goshen law firm; he may be the third African American business owner in Goshen’s history. From 1969 to 2010 he taught political science and history at Goshen College. In the fall of 2014 he teamed up with Dan Shenk to publicly recommend that the City of Goshen acknowledge its racially exclusionary past as a “sundown town”; the Goshen City Council passed such a resolution 6-0 on March 17, 2015. Lee Roy and his wife, Beth, have three adult children and two grandchildren.

The following excerpts address ideas and issues that emerged during the conversation with Lee Roy and Dan following the PowerPoint presentation.

Introduction and Reflections

quotes:

“What is significant for me is that, I mean, we were quite elated, you know, after the passage of this resolution. I mean it was extraordinary! But then of course you recognize that, as in all things in American society over the question of race, it’s going to be a pushback, and … it’s some kind of retrenching, and we’ve seen that subsequently to that event.

“When white people in the United States can come to say, to embrace the idea of Negritude as being synonymous with America, then we will have crossed over. Until that time, it’s a battle within oneself.

“I think that Goshen’s … statement itself was exemplary because we found a significant … A critical majority of our leaders, at that moment in time, found … themselves able to cross over.”

– Lee Roy Berry Jr.

Retelling Ugly History

How do you go about, not only engaging that history, but bringing it out and publicizing it in a way that allows people to be educated and not just turned off?

quotes:

“I think the last Indiana lynching was in 1930—in Marion. So it’s not unique to the South, and that’s one thing I think I’ve discovered in my research is that racism is alive and well, you know, all over the country, all over the world, and what we can do is try to light a candle instead of curse the darkness.”

– Dan Shenk

“It’s almost as if, I think, white people lived and performed and acted as though there was no … there would be no repercussions—everything could be forgotten—but life isn’t lived that way, and so I think that one … needs to tell these stories. … I think that we can have empathy for people, but we must tell the story.”

– Lee Roy Berry Jr.

The Paradoxical Reality of the United States

quotes:

“They wouldn’t even think, dream, of trying to suggest that their societies are open to everybody. I don’t know any society is—that makes this profession the way the Americans do, OK? That is our unique role in … the world.

“Can … white Americans embrace Satchmo the way they’ve embraced Beethoven? That is the question. … I think we’re stronger for it if we can. Look at all the creativity in this country—from the various sources of people who’ve come from all parts of the world here. I’m amazed at it … every time I turn on the television or something, you know, I’m seeing all these people … amazing stories. … Something good about diversity. Let us embrace it.”

– Lee Roy Berry Jr.

Calling Goshen Home, Through Good and Bad

What kept you in Goshen doing … this work, and what kept you fighting this good fight?

quotes:

“This is home. [My children] were born in the hospital over here, at the hospital down the road there … Their friends were here, you know. So that’s what kept me here. … I grew up as a migrant farmworker. We moved from place to place, and I wanted to see my children have a permanent place.”

– Lee Roy Berry Jr.

The Ongoing Saga of Embracing Diversity

quotes:

“The … question is whether my grandchildren … Will they … see a different America? Perhaps they will. I hope that they will.

“But this is an ongoing saga. The United States, I mean, to ‘make America great again,’ that is an illusion, OK? It will never happen in that sense. It will only happen, as I said before, if the United States can affirm itself, its own history, the good and the bad.”

– Lee Roy Berry Jr.

Conversation Highlights

About The Author

Phil Metzler

As the director of the Community Resilience Guild, Phil helps design and facilitate community initiatives that build relationships and navigate complexity. A passion for building community resilience and a reverence for life guide his work.

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