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Academic Programs

Lukas Althoff will be presenting in person/via Zoom.


With slavery ending in 1865, four million people (90 percent of the Black population) were freed. How has the socioeconomic status of Black Americans who were enslaved up to 1865 evolved compared to those who were already free? To answer this question, we use linked full-count U.S. Census data across all decades between 1850 and 1940 and a new strategy to accurately identify descendants of free and enslaved Black Americans. Our strategy exploits that before 1870, only free Black Americans were enumerated by the Census. We construct family histories for both free Black Americans (1850-1940) and enslaved Black Americans (1870-1940) and study the gaps in their socioeconomic characteristics. Our results suggest that the socioeconomic disadvantage faced by the formerly enslaved persisted across all generations in our sample. We show that geography not only accounts for most of this gap statistically, but that place also had an important causal effect on Black economic progress. Using the circumstance that the Enslaved did not enjoy freedom of movement before 1865, we identify each Southern county’s intergenerational effect on descendants of the Enslaved. The effects are large and persistent. Counties that provided education to a large fraction of Black kids during the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) tended to be the ones most favorable to Black economic progress after slavery.