Gavin WrightSharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South

Harvard University Press, 2013

by Peter-Christian Aigner on February 13, 2015

Gavin Wright

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[Cross-posted from New Books in History]  Americans rightly think of the civil rights legislation of 1964 and ’65 as a social and legal revolution. In Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South (Harvard University Press, 2013), Gavin Wright argues that it was an economic one, too. In clear and tightly organized prose, the eminent Stanford economic historian shows that after these pivotal years blacks in the South made record gains, “relative to earlier levels, relative to southern whites, and relative to national standards.” This progress was not simply a byproduct of the region’s general boom, as some have argued. Business gave no indication that it was inching toward integration, another instance of blind self-interest. Civil rights activists deserve the credit. But, ironically, the end of Jim Crow proved enormously beneficial to the whites who had so long opposed it. Although the situation began to change in the 1980’s, the civil rights revolution in the South was responsible for almost two-thirds of the reduction in poverty between then and 1965, the largest drop in U.S. history.

Certain to become a classic in the literature, the book is a fascinating look at a period deserving of even more awe than it has inspired. A fitting and cautionary tribute fifty years later.

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