Legislators' Response to Changes in the Electorate: The Great Migration and Civil Rights
98 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2019
Date Written: August 19, 2019
Between 1940 and 1970, during the second Great Migration, more than four million African Americans moved from the South to the North of the United States. In this period, blacks were often excluded from the political process in the South but were eligible to vote in the North. We study if, by changing the composition and the preferences of the northern electorate, the Great Migration increased demand for racial equality and induced legislators to more actively promote civil rights legislation. We predict black inflows by interacting historical settlements of southern born blacks across northern counties with the differential rate of black emigration from different southern states after 1940. We find that black in-migration increased the Democratic vote share and encouraged grass-roots activism. In turn, Congress members representing areas more exposed to black inflows became increasingly supportive of civil rights. They were not only more likely to vote in favor of pro-civil rights bills, but also more willing to take direct actions, such as signing discharge petitions, to promote racial equality. Investigating the mechanisms, we document that both “between” and “within” party changes contributed to the shift in the position of northern legislators on civil rights. Taken together, our findings suggest that the Great Migration played an important role in the development and success of the civil rights movement.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation