A Brief Moment in the Sun: The Racialized (Re)Construction of Punishment in the American Sout

A Brief Moment in the Sun: The Racialized (Re)Construction of Punishment in the American Sout

Abstract

Why did policing and incarceration emerge as an institution in the South in light of its otherwise hollow state? I explore this question in the context of 19th century U.S. South–a region which many point to as the crucible of punishment in America. I argue that outside intervention by the federal government during Reconstruction helped lay the groundwork for the carceral state. By empowering African Americans without fundamentally changing the social structure of Southern society, Reconstruction generated incentives for Southern elites to invest in repressive state institutions like incarceration and the police to maintain the existing social order. I test the argument by assembling a new panel dataset from individual-level administrative records from Georgia in addition to data on black wealth and office holding. A difference-in-differences identification strategy demonstrates support for the argument: counties with greater exposure to Reconstruction had higher rates of incarceration especially against blacks after the end of Reconstruction. Additional results on black wealth, black office-holding, and the police force provide suggestive evidence in line with the theory. This article verifies key arguments going back to W.E.B. Du Bois in addition to crystallizing racialized and coercive dimensions of state power. Job Market Paper

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