Ethnic disparity in preterm delivery between African Americans and European Americans has existed for decades, and is likely the consequence of multiple factors, including socioeconomic status, environment, and genetics. This review summarizes existing information on genetic variation and its association with preterm birth in African Americans. Candidate gene-based association studies, in which investigators have evaluated particular genes selected primarily because of their potential roles in the process of normal and pathologic parturition, provide evidence that genetic contributions from both mother and fetus account for some of the disparity in preterm births. To date, most attention has been focused on genetic variation in pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine genes and their respective receptors. These genes, particularly the pro-inflammatory cytokine genes and their receptors, are linked to matrix metabolism because these cytokines increase expression of matrix degrading metalloproteinases. However, the role that genetic variants that are different between populations play in preterm birth (e.g. the SERPINH1 - G56 SNP) cannot yet be quantified. Future studies based on genome wide association or admixture mapping may reveal other genes that contribute to disparity in prematurity.