Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Judith Stein

Committee Members

Thomas Kessner

Clarence Taylor

Joshua Freeman

Guian McKee

Subject Categories

African American Studies | History | Social History | United States History | Urban Studies and Planning


suburb, suburban history, urban history, New York, African American history


“Suburbs in Black and White” examines how economic development shaped African American suburbanization on Long Island, New York from 1920 through 1980. After 1940, the fortunes of Long Island’s growing black population shifted from widespread poverty to upward social mobility, though by the 1960s, a divide emerged between the rising black middle class and black working poor, and distinctly ‘black’ suburbs emerged with problems familiar to postwar inner cities. While urban racial inequality is often framed in terms of housing segregation and the city/suburb divide, census and labor market data reveal that structural economic change across the New York metropolitan region produced the racial gap and intra-racial class divide, regardless of urban or suburban residence. Long Island’s economy experienced the national labor market ‘twist’ after World War II, as job opportunities expanded for skilled workers and contracted for the unskilled. By the 1970s, deindustrialization reached the suburbs, leading to further job loss and strained suburban tax systems. African Americans disproportionately suffered from the transition, and their economic plight shaped the outcomes of local housing segregation. Nonetheless, the ideology of suburban ‘affluence’ and the dualism of black city versus white suburb dominated public policy in the 1960s and 1970s, obscuring the shared plight of postwar African American urban and suburban residents. By viewing the postwar suburbs from the perspective of the suburban labor market, this dissertation integrates the urban fringe and its minority residents into the broader history of late twentieth century racial and class inequality.