SNF Agora Faculty Seminars: Omar Wasow

Part of the SNF Agora Faculty Series AY 22-23
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Virtual event


  • Omar Wasow
  • Department of Politics, Princeton
  • Paper title: “The Long Fuse: How Early Investments in Black Education Helped Overthrow Jim Crow,” by Omar Wasow and Jacob Grumbach

What precipitates the collapse of seemingly durable social orders like segregation in the American South? Prior research suggests education played a key role in the decline of Jim Crow but Black schooling in the South was designed to maintain the status quo racial hierarchy. We propose a model of “path divergence” in which an intervention contributes to a long-run process that shifts society away from the entrenched equilibrium toward a new social order. Drawing on data from a remarkable educational intervention in the 1920s, we test this model by estimating the long-run effects on civic engagement of introducing 5,000 schools into mostly rural Black communities in the South. Counties exposed to “Rosenwald schools” in the 1920s, which increased Black school enrollment, were more likely to engage in civil rights protests in the 1960s. In addition, we show that these counties saw greater increases in voter turnout after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Using both mediation analysis and distance from railroad lines to approximate random assignment of schools, we provide suggestive evidence of causal relationship between Rosenwald schools and greater Black civic engagement. We find major investments in African American education, despite its separate and unequal status, nurtured a generation of equality-minded citizens who helped dismantle Jim Crow.

About the speaker:

Omar Wasow is an assistant professor in Princeton’s Department of Politics. His research focuses on race and politics. His co-authored work on the challenge of estimating effects of race was published in the Annual Review of Political Science (2016). His research on protest movements has been featured in the New Yorker, the Atlantic and the Washington Post. Before joining the academy, Omar served as a regular on-air technology analyst and was the co-founder of, a social network he helped grow to over three million active users. In 2003, he helped found a high performing K-8 charter school in Brooklyn. He received a PhD in African American studies, an MA in Government and an MA in Statistics from Harvard University. He can be reached on Twitter @owasow.