The transmission of historical racial violence: Lynching, civil rights–era terror, and contemporary interracial homicide

Nicholas Petersen, Geoff Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Research finds that historic racial violence helps predict spatial distributions of contemporary outcomes, including homicide. These findings underscore the continued need to historicize modern race relations, yet intervening processes linking past violence with present events remain unclear. This study examines these intermediary mechanisms by reducing the century-long time-lapse common to legacy of racial violence research. We use mid-century measures of violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement to bridge the historical gap between lynchings and later homicide, thus clarifying the dynamic and contingent nature of the legacy of racial violence. Structural equation models indicate that incidents of anti-civil rights enforcement and contemporary homicides are more likely to occur in areas with pronounced histories of lynching. Civil rights era assaults mediate the relationship between lynchings and contemporary homicide generally, but not White-on-Black homicide, signaling a need for further research documenting events of mid-century racial violence and clarifying these and other sources of historical transmission. Implications for future research and public policy are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-143
Number of pages30
JournalRace and Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015



  • Criminological theories
  • Hate/bias crimes
  • Homicides
  • Interracial crime
  • Lynching
  • Race and death penalty
  • Subculture of violence
  • Victimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Anthropology

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