Study by Ohio State University Economists Shows Black Politicians Matter

A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Trevon Logan, a professor of economics at Ohio State University, finds that when Blacks hold political power their economic status rises. But when they lose political power, their economic fortunes dwindle. This conclusion shows the importance of political activism for African Americans.

Professor Logan looked at county-level data from the 1870 Census during the Reconstruction period, when many African Americans held elective office. He then compared the data to 1880 Census figures, a period after the end of Reconstruction. Dr. Logan found that per capita tax revenue declined significantly in counties with no Black politicians in 1880 compared to 1870 when more Blacks were in office. This was because Black politicians wanted public money for schools to educate the newly freed Black population. Once, the number of Black officeholders declined the demand for more tax dollars for education subsided.

Dr. Logan’s research showed that in 1990 the literacy rate for Blacks who were of school age during Reconstruction was significantly higher than for Blacks who were school age after the end of Reconstruction. In short, Black political power led to gains in education for African Americans.

Black politicians also enacted tax laws to entice landowners to either to sell their lands to Blacks or put their acreage into production which created jobs for African Americans. This increased Black incomes during the period.

Professor Logan concludes that “the effect of politicians on the lives of Blacks was acute. Black officeholders during Reconstruction mattered. When Blacks were out of office, the gains went as well. The positive effects for Blacks disappeared.”

Dr. Logan joined the faculty at Ohio State University in 2004. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Logan holds master’s degrees in economics and demography and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, “Do Black Politicians Matter?” is available on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research. It may be accessed here.

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