The Persistence of Historical Racial Violence and Political Suppression: Implications for Contemporary Regional Inequality

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterIntergenerational Effects
92 ANNALS, AAPSS, 694, March 2021
DOI: 10.1177/00027162211016298
The Persistence
of Historical
Racial Violence
and Political
Implications for
1016298ANN The Annals Of The American AcademyPersistence Of Racial Violence And Political Suppression
We provide evidence on the link between lynchings
and a range of political and economic outcomes for
Black Americans. We show that lynchings are related to
racial and political motives among whites that keep
Black Americans disconnected from the political pro-
cess. This political and racial gradient to lynchings is
related to public finance and redistribution within
states and localities and has potentially long-lasting
implications for investments in financial and human
capital for Black Americans. We also document regional
inequality in economic well-being and the social safety
net, linking the legacy of racialized violence and dimin-
ished political capital to persistently higher poverty and
lowered investments in social and labor market poli-
cies, showing that a key goal of Southern Redemption
policies and violence continues to play a role in Black
American life in the twenty-first century.
Keywords: racial violence; lynching; political partici-
pation; socioeconomic outcomes
Lynching, the extrajudicial murder of a per-
son or persons at the hands of a mob, is
commonly viewed as concurrent with the rise
of Jim Crow, the erosion of Black political and
economic gains from Reconstruction, and a
period of intense racial hostility. Recent histori-
cal scholarship by Loewen (2013); Jaspin
(2008); Hagen, Makovi, and Bearman (2013);
Beck, Tolnay, and Bailey (2016); Kantrowitz
(2012); Cook (2014); and Cook, Logan, and
Parman (2018) argues that lynching was only
one piece of a larger pattern of racial violence
in America in the late nineteenth century. This
includes the ethnic cleansing of entire counties
Jhacova A. Williams is an economist at the RAND cor-
poration. Prior to joining RAND, she served as an
economist at the Economic Policy Institute within the
Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.
Williams also previously served as an assistant profes-
sor at Clemson University and as a mathematics
instructor at Xavier University of Louisiana.
and the prohibition of Black residents in “sundown towns,” wherein Blacks found
to be present after dark would face violent acts. In this article, we show that racial
violence against Blacks has contributed to between- and within-region political
and economic inequality. Lynchings of Blacks lead to historical Black political
and policy-maker exclusion. And those historical initial conditions are strongly
associated today with diminished economic security. Such insecurity comes at a
cost to the broader society and includes starkly higher levels of modern-day pov-
erty and unemployment in the population.
The academic study of lynchings extends back to the efforts of Ida B. Wells,
the Chicago Tribune, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People), Tuskegee Institute, and others in the late nineteenth and twen-
tieth centuries who have documented lynchings and the conditions surrounding
them at the turn of the century (NAACP 1919; D. Williams 1968). Based on
these initial data collection efforts to describe the characteristics of lynching vic-
tims and lynch mobs, economic conflict-driven theories of lynching emerged.
Generally, lynching was viewed by scholars and the press as either a response to
economic frustration (Hovland and Sears 1940) or a deliberate attempt to
improve the economic position of whites relative to Blacks (Raper 1933). The
seminal work of Blalock (1967) emphasized conflict between groups as a response
to threats posed by the minority group to the majority group’s power and
With improved data on southern lynching victims, Beck and Tolnay explored
additional economic theories of lynching (Tolnay and Beck 1990, 1992b; see also
Cook 2012). Consistent with earlier work, they document a positive correlation
between Black population size and the incidence of lynchings; they also
demonstrate a higher prevalence of lynchings with declining cotton prices and
increased inflationary pressure, adding support for an economic theory of lynch-
ings. Lynchings, in this context, reduce competition from Black workers for white
jobs by eliminating migrant Black workers or intimidating Black market entrants.
More recently, Hagen, Makovi, and Bearman (2013) and Beck, Tolnay, and
Bailey (2016) argue that mob formation, as opposed to successful lynchings,
Trevon D. Logan is a professor of economics at the Ohio State University and a research asso-
ciate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His publications include “The National
Rise in Residential Segregation” (Journal of Economic History 2017), “Do Black Politicians
Matter? Evidence from Reconstruction” (Journal of Economic History 2020), and “Location
Matters: Historical Racial Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility” (Economics Letters
Bradley L. Hardy is an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and
Policy at American University and nonresident senior fellow in Economic Studies at the
Brookings Institution. His publications include “Location Matters: Historical Racial Segregation
and Intergenerational Mobility” (Economics Letters 2017) and “The Evolution of Black
Neighborhoods since Kerner” (RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social
Sciences 2018).
NOTE: We thank Marcus D. Casey for helpful feedback, and we thank Ene Ikpebe for
valuable research assistance.

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