Legal Activism, State Policy, and Racial Inequality in Teacher Salaries and Educational Attainment in the Mid-Century American South
In the late 1930s, the NAACP launched a campaign to equalize Black and white teacher salaries in the de jure segregated schools of the American South. Using newly collected county panel data spanning three decades, this paper first documents heterogeneous within-state impacts of the campaign on teacher salaries. In states that reinforced successful NAACP litigation by introducing universal minimum salary schedules based on objective criteria, the relatively large wage penalty historically suffered by Black teachers in districts with higher Black enrollment shares disappeared by the mid-1950s. In states that resisted by adopting salary schedules using the National Teacher Examination as a measure of teaching efficacy, that penalty remained. In the second part of the paper, we estimate the effect of teacher pay on educational attainment exploiting variation in Black salary gains over time across counties with different Black enrollment shares, and across states by whether subsequent state policy reinforced or resisted court rulings favorable to the NAACP. We find that Black teacher salary gains contributed to the large reductions in racial inequality in school enrollment and grade progression in the South at mid-century.
- Between 1890 and 1950, public school systems in states of the deep South were racially segregated by law. Disenfranchisement of Black...