I Grew Up in the ‘Most Hateful Town in America’
When folks ask me where I’m from, I have a stock answer: You’ve probably never heard of it and if you have, whatever you heard probably wasn’t good.
Vidor, Texas, is a little strip of fast food restaurants and gas stations that bisects Interstate 10 at the midway point on its journey from “sea to shining sea.” It’s a place where you stop to stretch your legs, void your bladder, and scarf down something greasy before moseying on to someplace better, like Biloxi.
With a population of about 11,000, Vidor is primarily famous for two things.
The first is country music because Vidor is where the singer George Jones was living that time he drunk drove his tractor to the liquor store because his wife hid his car keys. My town also produced a few B-list country stars, like Clay Walker and Tracy Byrd.
The second thing that Vidor is known for is considerably less wholesome: racism.
“Don’t let the sun set on your black ass”
Vidor was once what they called a “sundown town,” or a white-flight suburb of the much larger and more racially diverse city of Beaumont. Black people could pass through unscathed so long as they were gone come sunset. These towns usually had a sign that said something to the effect of “whites only after dark.”
It was rumored that Vidor used to have a sign like this. I’ve heard stories from older folks who claim to have actually seen it posted alongside the railroad tracks or out by the highway.
The generic sundown town sign was a formal, simple statement of policy, like “No parking after 5 p.m.” Vidor’s sign was not. According to legend, the sign said in big, painted letters:
“N***er, don’t let the sun set on your black ass!”
Not that the sign was really necessary; Vidor’s reputation was deterrent enough. If you were a black man traveling through town in the bad old days and you got a flat, the smart…