Abstract: The retrenchment of court-ordered school desegregation has been more variable and incomplete than often acknowledged, challenging common accounts that blame shifts in federal policy and legal precedent. This study supplements these accounts by examining local factors that influenced whether and when desegregation orders were dismissed between 1970 and 2013. After accounting for federal policy changes and districts’ variable success in desegregating schools, several ostensibly race-neutral organizational, financial, and political incentives appear to influence the survival of desegregation orders. Racial competition dynamics related to local racial composition also seem to play a role, as desegregation orders have been most vulnerable when and where black population shares surpass a tipping point of about forty percent.
Acknowledgment note: The authors contributed equally to the authorship of this paper. The authors would like to thank Andrew Davis, Jennifer Earl, Xinguang Fan, Joe Galskiewicz, and Xiao Wang for helpful feedback. Direct correspondence to Jeremy E. Fiel, University of Arizona, Department of Sociology, Social Science Bldg, Rm 433, P.O. Box 210027, Tucson, AZ 85721-0027; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.