Race, Representation and Local Governments in the U.S. South: The Effect of the Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 redefined race relations in the United States. Yet, evidence on its effect on African American office-holding remains scant. Using novel data on African American elected officials between 1962 and 1980, we assess the causal impact of the VRA on the racial make-up of local governments in the U.S. South. Exploiting pre-determined differential exposure of southern counties to the mandated federal intervention, we show that the latter fostered local African American office-holding, particularly in the powerful county commissions, controlling local public finances. In the presence of election by district, covered counties experienced African American representation gains and faster capital spending growth.