Large-Scale Urban Riots and Residential Segregation: A Case Study of the 1960s U.S. Riots

Abstract

Despite a well-established literature investigating race-related predictors of riot incidence, the racial aftermath of riots remains unexamined. In this study, I use the 1960s U.S. race riots to investigate trends in black residential segregation levels following large-scale riot activity in seven major U.S. cities. I use a novel approach—namely, synthetic control matching—to select a group of cities against which segregation trends can be compared. I find that levels of black segregation rose in 1970 for four of the seven cities, but these increases disappeared in 1980 and 1990 except in Detroit. These results mask differential trends at lower geographic levels: suburban neighborhoods in affected areas experienced larger and longer-term increases in segregation, particularly in traditionally hypersegregated cities in the Midwest and Northeast.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Following the empirical literature on riots, I define a riot as a “spontaneous event” with at least 30 participants that resulted in property damage, looting, or other aggressive behavior.

  2. 2.

    I begin the pre-riot period in 1920 because many cities were missing segregation data in prior census years. Data from 1920 to 1950 come from Cutler et al. (1999). The 1960 tract-level data come from the Bogue Data Files (Bogue 2000). The 1970–1990 tract-level data were extracted from the GeoLytics Neighborhood Change Database (GeoLytics, Inc. 2002). For cities missing 1950 values, I interpolated values using 1940 and 1960 data.

  3. 3.

    I exclude values in 1930 and 1950 to prevent overfitting. Additionally, rather than matching on the segregation values for each pre-riot year, which can introduce bias and other undesirable results (Kaul et al. 2015), I use the average segregation for the first two periods (1920 and 1930) and each individual year thereafter, which maintains the integrity of using all pre-riot years in the matching process but places emphasis on the individual decennial years immediately preceding the riots.

  4. 4.

    Maryland and Washington, DC, are designated Southern states by the Census.

  5. 5.

    Two MSAs were omitted because all their tracts comprised their central cities in 1960.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Matthew Andersson, Shai Dromi, Michael Hout, Elizabeth Roberto, Sam Stabler, seminar participants at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association, and anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Noli Brazil.

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Brazil, N. Large-Scale Urban Riots and Residential Segregation: A Case Study of the 1960s U.S. Riots. Demography 53, 567–595 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0459-9

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Keywords

  • Civil disorder
  • Riot
  • Segregation
  • Racial inequality
  • Synthetic control