How slavery still shapes racial inequality

Image by Robert Reece.

Places are shaped by their histories, so we cannot truly understand what happens in places today without investigating those histories. History helps us understand the riots in Baltimore. It helps us understand South Carolina’s attachment to the Confederate flag and the accompanying backlash from Black citizens. Recently social science researchers have shouldered the challenge of examining how places in the South and elsewhere have been shaped by antebellum slavery.

This area of research is still growing, but already, study after study consistently shows that the structure of places is inextricably linked to their slavery history in a wide variety of ways, especially at a very local level. Researchers find that the stronger a place’s direct reliance on slave labor, the greater its contemporary racial inequality in terms of poverty, income, and educational attainment, its violent crime rate, its rate of judicial executions, and the sturdier its school segregation. These correlations remain strong even when accounting for a number of other factors that may affect the outcomes.

Despite the importance of this history to the way our contemporary social world works, our knowledge of slavery is often shrouded in a variety of myths, misinformation, and sometimes even outright lies. Scalawag seeks to disentangle some of those myths and misinformation by taking a look at antebellum slavery by the numbers.

 


Sources

[1 – 3, 5, 8] United States Census. Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011. http://www.nhgis.org
[4, 7, 11] United States Census microdata. IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota, www.ipums.org.
[9] Ruef, Martin. 2012. “Constructing Labor Markets: The Valuation of Black Labor in the U.S. South, 1831 to 1867.” American Sociological Review 77(6): 970-998.
[10] Evans Jr, Robert. 1962. “The Economics of Negro Slavery.” Pp 185-256 in Aspects of Labor Economics edited by Universities-National Bureau Committee for Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/chapters/c0606
[12] United States Census. Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011. http://www.nhgis.org
[13] Schweninger, Loren. 1989. “Black-Owned Businesses in the South 1790-1880.” The Business History Review 63(1): 22-60.
[14 – 16] Reece, Robert L. and Heather O’Connell. “How the Legacy of Slavery and Racial Composition Shape Public School Enrollment in the American South.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. DOI: 10.1177/2332649215582251