Urban Studies Black Suburbs
Kimberley Johnson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0021


Black suburbanization and black suburbs were not the focus of social science research until the 1960s. The rise of the civil rights movement, the emergence of a growing black middle class, and the enactment of the 1968 Fair Housing Act allowed for much greater movement of blacks into largely segregated white suburbs. Research on black suburbs and black suburbanization has largely traced rates of growth as well as patterns of settlement. In many metropolitan areas, black suburbanization has extended the segregated residential patterns of the core cities. Other research has focused on the creation of political and social identities of the mostly middle-class blacks who initially moved into the suburbs. Research since 2000 has focused on older, inner-ring suburbs where many working-class and poor African Americans have settled. This bibliography highlights works that explore the distinctiveness of black suburbs. Early histories of black suburbs are included, as well as more recent work that places their emergence as part of recent trends in urban and suburban history. Differentiating these suburbs from each other and from other suburbs has played a large role in how scholars understand black suburbanization, as varying across space, place, and time. Since 2000 the role of race, ethnicity, and immigration has also shaped black suburbs by reshaping political coalitions and social understandings. America’s growing economic inequality has been reflected in the transformation of urban-centric social welfare services to the new political, economic, and physical landscape of American suburbs. Recent research suggests that black suburbs are distinctive, and that policy choices and governance varies along with this distinctiveness. As such, this bibliography centers black suburbanization and black suburbs as its core topic. This means that this review will not cover the key works that have established the centrality of race in shaping white suburbanization, such as Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), Lizabeth Cohen’s Consumer Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), and David M. P. Freund’s Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007). While these works are important, black suburbs and suburbanization largely remain secondary to their core focus. This also means that changes in central city black neighborhoods, as well black urban politics, will also not be a focus of the bibliography.

General Overviews

Wiese 2004 is a foundational history of black suburbs and is part of a new suburban history highlighted by work such as Kruse and Sugrue 2006. Connolly 2014 and Kruse 2005 examine black suburbanization in the South. The long history of black suburbs in Philadelphia is traced from Porch 1938 to Pottinger 2015. Wilson 1992 and Greason 2013 contextualize black suburbanization in New Jersey. Straus 2014, a history of Compton, California, is useful for an introduction to black suburbanization in the West.

  • Connolly, Nathan D. B. A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.001.0001

    This work connects urban, suburban, and African American history through an analysis of community building and urban renewal in Miami. The study shows the interplay between white politicians, planners, and other officials as they sought to make modern Miami. African Americans were not passive in this remaking of metropolitan Miami. Class and ethnic divisions within Miami’s black community shaped the various initiatives and responses that the community made during this period of metropolitan development.

  • Greason, Walter David. Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press, 2013.

    This book traces the transformation of rural African American communities in mostly southern New Jersey as suburban growth gradually encompassed what had been considered the rural fringe. Gleason focuses on local actors and community groups as they grappled with the political, economic, and social changes that came from being incorporated into white-dominated suburbanization.

  • Kruse, Kevin M. White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400848973

    Examines how the civil rights movement reshaped Atlanta. City officials used a mix of public and private means to maintain urban segregation. The study finds that in order to maintain segregation, the city sometimes cooperated with black real estate interests that sought out newer, higher-quality areas for black settlement. Nonetheless, rapid white flight resulted, despite attempts to limit school and housing desegregation. Whites created new suburban enclaves where local regulations and privatized spaces and services would limit contact with blacks.

  • Kruse, Kevin M., and Thomas J. Sugrue, eds. The New Suburban History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    This volume is important in establishing and highlighting suburban history as its own field rather than an offshoot of urban history. Notable in this volume is work by Andrew Wiese, who draws attention to the place of black suburbs in this new suburban history.

  • Porch, Marvin E. “The Philadelphia Main Line Negro: A Social, Economic and Education Survey.” EdD diss.,Temple University, 1938.

    This dissertation examines the preexisting settlements of Main Line Philadelphia. Porch documents distinct class and occupational differences among residents, and their varied levels of connectedness to Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods. He highlights the importance of homeownership and entrepreneurship for these residents, as well as the development of community institutions and organizations.

  • Pottinger, Trecia. “Black Suburbanization on Philadelphia’s Main Line, 1894–1975.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2015.

    This dissertation examines black suburban life in Ardmore, a community located on Philadelphia’s Main Line. The community has long been the home of a significant black community. The study examines how black Main Line residents negotiated and shaped racial and class identities in the suburban context. Includes both a historical overview and a contemporary analysis.

  • Straus, Emily E. Death of a Suburban Dream: Race and Schools in Compton, California. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

    This work traces the complex racial and economic transformation of Compton. The study shows that white attempts to maintain a segregated, residential community created structural fiscal deficits that weakened black Compton’s prospects. Although initially settled by the black middle class, by the 1980s rising crime rates and failing schools had redefined it as a suburban ghetto. By the 1990s a growing Latino population had triggered a struggle over the control of schools and city government between this group and long-time black residents.

  • Wiese, Andrew. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226896267.001.0001

    This work firmly established the study of black suburbs and black suburbanization. The author creates a useful typology of these places based on the occupation, income, or lifestyle preferences of their black residents. He traces black urbanization back to the late 19th century, highlighting the role of black community builders. Other types of black suburbanization, based on place rather than status, are examined—from the planned, segregated suburbs of the South to the contested suburban integration of the Northeast and Midwest.

  • Wilson, Leslie E. “Dark Spaces: An Account of Afro-American Suburbanization, 1890–1950.” PhD diss., City University of New York, 1992.

    This dissertation offers a plethora of primary and secondary sources for further research. The work largely focuses on suburbanization in the New York City metropolitan region, comprising New Jersey, Westchester County, and Long Island. Many of these early black suburban enclaves are still in existence as predominantly black suburbs.

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