American Sociological Association

Historical Shadows: The Links between Sundown Towns and Contemporary Black–White Inequality

I contribute to our understanding of black–white inequality in the United States by assessing the legacy of “sundown towns.” Sundown towns are places that restricted who could live there based on ideas about race. The often-violent tactics employed to create and maintain all-white spaces reshaped dramatically the demographic and social landscape of the non-South. I extend previous research on sundown towns by examining their association with contemporary black–white economic inequality. In addition, I advance a new theoretical perspective to explain how the history associated with sundown towns contributes to contemporary inequality, namely large-scale segregation. To assess the contemporary impact of sundown history, I employ a dataset on places connected to sundown towns in the eastern Midwest and county data from the 2008–2012 American Community Survey (ACS) period estimates. In addition, I use standard ordinary least squares (OLS) and spatial data analysis techniques to provide a multifaceted assessment of the contribution of sundown towns to contemporary black–white inequality. This analysis extends our understanding of the social impact of historical legacies and emphasizes the importance of the protection of white advantage and large-scale segregation when explaining the (re)production of black–white inequality in the United States.

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Heather A. O'Connell





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