The National Economic Association was founded as the Caucus of Black Economists in December 1969. At that time, Black economists across the country were increasingly concerned about their lack of representation in the economics profession, especially with regards to the American Economic Association (AEA). On the West Coast, Charles Z. “C.Z.” Wilson, Marcus Alexis and Thaddeus Spratlen began contact with the AEA seeking a greater presence of Black economists at the annual meetings.
In order to bolster support for their cause, Marcus Alexis and C.Z. Wilson took the lead in contacting Black economists all over the country to invite them to an organizing meeting, scheduled to take place during the December 1969 annual AEA/Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) conference in New York.
There was already a session scheduled for 8:30 am on the first day of the conference, December 28, 1969, “Increasing the Supply of Black Economists.” The session was chaired by future Westerfield Award recipient, Phyllis A. Wallace, and future NEA President, Flournoy A. Coles. Right after, a meeting of Black economists was convened. The organizers expected 35 attendees, and 65 people attended. At this meeting, and others taking place during the conference, the Caucus of Black Economists was established.
The 65 attendees at the first meeting were a mix of individuals from major colleges and universities, HBCUs and nonacademic institutions. There was much discussion about how to move forward. By the end of the meeting, officers were elected, and a Steering Committee was formed. Later that same evening, a group representing the Caucus met with the AEA Executive Committee. Joining the members of the Caucus group was future Nobel Laureate, Sir W. Arthur Lewis. The discussion included a bill of particulars that asked for:
greater representation of Black economists in policy and editorial decision-making roles, partnerships to develop programs for increasing the supply of Black economists, and the appointment of an associate secretary, to be identified by the CBE, who would be tasked with fostering activities to improve the status of economists from Black and other underrepresented minority communities.
The AEA Executive Committee did not fully endorse or agree to the demands. The President-Elect, James Tobin, and others did agree to the request for greater participation in AEA/ASSA conferences. At the next annual meetings in December 1970, the Caucus was listed in the conference program as an organization sponsoring sessions with three Caucus sessions.
Soon afterward, Tobin created a new AEA standing committee on the Supply of Black Economists; later renamed the AEA Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession (CSMGEP). In 1974, the Caucus of Black Economists became the National Economics Association and in 1978, the NEA became an official Allied Social Science Associate.
In the early days, institutions such as the Black Economic Research Center, founded by Bob Browne, were important in nurturing the Caucus and research on issues affecting Black communities in the U.S. and abroad. Since then, the NEA has grown and thrived. There is a vital membership with many willing to serve as officers, board members and committee members. The NEA’s annual business meetings are always well-attended. These are followed up by insightful Presidential Addresses, given by the outgoing officer.
NEA members have presented thousands of research papers in NEA-sponsored sessions at annual AEA/ASSA, Southern Economic Association and Western Economic Association meetings as well as the NEA/ASHE sponsored Freedom and Justice Conference. Most of these papers are published in respected academic journals, including the NEA’s Review of Black Political Economy (RBPE).
With their research efforts, NEA members have brought issues facing Black and other underrepresented communities to the forefront, including creating the new field of Stratification Economics to better describe the pernicious effects of discrimination in economies.
The NEA has also been a strong partner to the AEA, working hand-in-hand with CSMGEP. Most of this important committee’s members and chairs have been NEA members. NEA members have played vital leadership roles in the AEA’s Summer Minority Program, the NSF-funded AEA/CSMGEP Mentorship Program and the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in