Published on January 16, 2008
Race and Ethnicity in the 1920s: Race and Ethnicity in the 1920s United States in the Interwar Years 7 October 2004 Background: African-Americans in the Early 20th Century: Background: African-Americans in the Early 20th Century Half a century after the Civil War, about ninety percent of the African-American Population of the US still lived in the South, mostly in rural areas. Only a small fraction owned their own land. Most worked as sharecroppers—tenants who paid part of their crops (usually half) to the landlord. Politically and socially, Southern Blacks suffered from acute racial discrimination and growing segregation, legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 (the Plessy v. Ferguson case). The Great Debate: Washington vs. DuBois: The Great Debate: Washington vs. DuBois Booker T. Washington, born a slave, became the leading spokesman for Southern Blacks in the 1890s. He preached a doctrine of gradual improvement and acceptance of segregation. He told a white audience in 1895: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." The Great Debate: Washington vs. DuBois: The Great Debate: Washington vs. DuBois W.E.B. DuBois, the first Black to receive a Ph.D from Harvard, was one of America’s leading intellectuals of the twentieth century as well as a political activist. He objected to Washington’s acceptance of second-class citizenship and called for the development of a “talented tenth” of African-Amerians who would fight for full equality. DuBois, from The Souls of Black Folk, 1903: DuBois, from The Souls of Black Folk, 1903 “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line--the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. “ The NAACP: The NAACP In 1909, DuBois and a group of white and African-American men and women formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP soon became the leading civil rights organization in the US. War and Racial Conflict: War and Racial Conflict African-American soldiers fought in World War I in a segregated army, commanded by white officers. During and immediately after the War, there were major race riots in cities across the United States. The most deadly was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where as many as 300 African-Americans may have died and the city’s once-thriving Black neighborhood was destroyed. Tulsa Race Riot 1921: Tulsa Race Riot 1921 Revival of the Ku Klux Klan: Revival of the Ku Klux Klan The Ku Klux Klan had formed in the years after the Civil War to intimidate and suppress newly-free African Americans. In 1915, a new KKK was formed,inspired by the movie Birth of a Nation, which presented a distorted and racist view of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. In the early 1920s, the Klan grew rapidly, with about five million people joining. The KKK, American Politics and Society in the 1920s: The KKK, American Politics and Society in the 1920s The 1920s Klan was a national organization, strong not only in the South but also in states like Indiana (Midwest), Colorado (West) and Oregon (Pacific Coast). Its aims were not only to preserve white rule but also to express hostility to Catholics, Jews and immigrant groups. The Klan also was involved in attempted to combat some of the modern cultural trends of the twenties. The KKK Marches By the US Capitol: The KKK Marches By the US Capitol Marcus Garvey and Garveyism: Marcus Garvey and Garveyism One Response to American racism was to demand full inclusion and equality. This was the approach of DuBois and the NAACP. Another was to call for African-American nationalism. In the 1920s, Marcus Garvey led a movement officially known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that stressed the need to separate from white society and relate to the peoples of Africa. Garveyism Still Has Followers Today—Philadelphia, 2004: Garveyism Still Has Followers Today—Philadelphia, 2004 The Harlem Renaissance: The Harlem Renaissance Manhattan’s African-American neighborhood became a vital center of Black cultural and artistic life in the 1920s and 1930s. Some themes of the Harlem Renaissance: A sense of connection to Africa and inclusion of African themes and images: A sense of connection to Africa and inclusion of African themes and images Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. Writers, artists and musicians make use of aspects of urban life: Writers, artists and musicians make use of aspects of urban life Jacob Lawrence, “Brownstones,” from “The Migration Series” White Interest and Involvement in African American Culture: White Interest and Involvement in African American Culture In part because of the economic insecurity of Black intellectuals and artists, the Harlem Renaissance depended to a large extent on white patronage. White involvement reflects several factors: Anti-racism and a desire to build a truly integrated society A kind of “primitivism”—a belief that Black culture was less corrupted by the evils of modern industrial society and more in touch with basic emotions and instincts. Slide19: If there is time and if we have access to a VCR, we’ll watch excerpts from a video, Against the Odds: Artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Some Websites of Interest: Some Websites of Interest A good interactive site on Jacob Lawrence, painter of the wonderful “Migration Series” is at http://www.phillipscollection.org/lawrence/index.html A site on the Tulsa race riot of 1921 A brief history of the Ku Klux Klan Research center on Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association The NAACP’s website The “W.E.B. DuBois Virtual University” Exhibit on Harlem 1900-1940 Hypertext version of a collection of Harlem Renaissance works originally published in 1925.