Airway Heights, Washington’s Unknown Sundown Town

One of Eastern Washington's newer communities was founded with racial restrictions

“Airway Heights celebrated its 50-year history June 14, 2005 and has Carl M. and Flora K. Lundstrom to thank for early city-building. The Lundstrom’s were the first to plat the land, donate parcels for initial city building and worked towards incorporation in 1955. Carl M. and Flora K. Lundstrom had worked in real estate in Seattle and Electric City in the early 1940s and owned Rocket Investment Company. Discussions with officials at Galena Air Depot (which later became Fairchild Air Force Base) showed the need for local housing”.

Airway Heights was incorporated in 1955, but fourteen years before the small town became ingrained, the Geiger Air Force Base was formed. The Geiger Air Force Base was established in 1941. During the Second World War it was used as a training base for bombers, aircraft maintenance, used by technical service command etc. During the Second World War many Americans from different racial classes were fighting for the United States. But even though they were fighting as one for the same country, people of color we not treated equally. According to historian Dwayne Mack, he states how African Americans soldiers were being treated “The white community did not embrace black soldiers, but considered them troublemakers,” Dwayne said. “Blacks lived in segregated barracks”. Another instance from a local newspaper explains that African American soldiers were segregated at Geiger Air Force Base and forced to sit in sections of the post theater. Though a representative states that these statement are wrong. Though it is hard to believe that during this time in history, soldiers would lie in this situation. Though this one section that contributes to Airway Heights racist past, this is not the only reason why the town was known as a sundown town.

The Lundstrom’s, both Carl and Flora M. Lundstrom are celebrated as the town founders of Airway Heights Washington for being the amazing people who established the small town we know of today. But this is far from the truth. Carl M, Lundstrom is a name that is seen in several racial covenants in the Airway Heights area, but who was he and what did he do? Lundstrom was the president of Rocket Development Company a land developing company which is attached to racial covenants in the soon to be Airway Heights area. In later years, he was elected as the first mayor of Airway Heights, while running unopposed. The actions of Carl Lundstrom can be one of the main defying reasons of why Airway Heights became a sundown town.

In the Racial Covenants made by Lundstrom under Rocket Investment Company, they often featured this statement “No persons of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any building upon these premises, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with owner or tenant”. In these racial covenants, those who were making them knew exactly what they were doing. We see this similarly in 1948, under the Supreme Court case Shelley vs Kramer. The Shelley’s a black family move into a home which had a racial covenant attached to it, claiming that this covenant violated the fourteenth amendment. This case later won, with the Supreme Court claiming that racial covenants cannot stand, which of course was a great achievement to see during this time period. About twenty years later, the Fair Housing Act is passed, which prohibits discrimination in terms of the sale, rental, and financing of housing. Which once again was a great victory to see. Though with these amazing things being done, the history of what has happened beforehand still lingers, and the effects of what was done still are seen to this very day. Neighborhoods in Airway Heights due to these racial covenants became white populated areas, and completely altered the history of Airway Heights.

But the history does not end there. Airway Heights has white population of 67.8 percent, while the African American population sits at 4.6 percent, the towns claims to have a 99 out of 100 diversity score. In the years 2020 and as recent as 2022 Airway Heights had a problem with racist flyers being posting around the town. The man responsible for these action was Raymond Bryant, a self-proclaimed Nazi and member of a white supremacist organization. Bryant, 46, was arrested at his Airway Heights home in February 2021 and later sentenced to seven months behind bars for defacing the Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue in Spokane with swastikas. In 2015, Airway Heights mayor Patrick Rushing compared former First Lady Michelle Obama to “monkey’s and gorillas”, and after these disgusting statements the former Airway Heights mayor resigned from his position. There are several more articles involving the town of Airway Heights, and racism quite often still to this very day. 

The history of Airway Heights and its secret past of being a sundown town should be recognized. But in many ways it is quite obvious, with the certain acts that have been done in the town recently, specifically targeting African Americans. Once again, it all goes back to the racist ideals the town was founded on, without the racial covenants it is easy to say that the town could look completely different if this point of the towns history would have never happened. The evidence of Airway Heights being a sundown town is there, but instead of ignoring their past as if it never happened, the town should be aware of the harm that has targeted African American’s decades ago, and how this effected not only these marginalized groups but the growth of Airway Heights as well.