America 1919-1941 In this module you will study

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3.  Race Relations

How far were the 1920s a time of racism and discrimination for Black Americans?


Argument 1 - A time of racism [HACKLE]:


a.  Hostility to immigrants:  and the Red Scare' (see p.5 above)

d.  American Government:  refused to pass laws banning lynchings or giving Black Americans the vote.

c.  Jim Crow Laws:  the name for laws passed in the southern states which prevented Black Americans from mixing with whites ('segregation'), denied them equality of education and civil rights, and prevented them from voting.

b.  Ku Klux Klan:  an organisation to maintain WASPs supremacy, which had 5 million members by 1925.   Many supporters were poor whites, who did not want Blak Americans to be their equals/fear they would take their jobs, but many were racism wealthy white Americans.   They wore white sheets and hoods, and marched with burning crosses.   They spoke with each other in a secret language which they called 'Klonversations'.   They attacked, tortured and killed Black Americans, but also Jews and Catholics and 'immoral' people such as alcoholics.

e.  Lynchings:  mobs of white people often hanged ('lynched') Blacks Americans whom they suspected of a crime (usually the police turned a blind eye).  

f.  Even in the north:  Black Americans ended up with the low-paid menial jobs,  such as janitors, bootblacks, cooks, houseboys, baggage handlers, waiters, doormen, dishwashers and washroom attendants.   In 1919, white Americans in Chicago rampaged through Black neighbourhoods after a drowning black man clinging to a log had drifted into a whites-only swimming area.


Argument 2 - A time of flowering  [RHINO]:


a.  Role models: some Black Americans became famous - the sprinter Jesse Owens, the baseball player Jackie Robinson, the dancer Josephine Baker.   They were an inspiration to other Black Americans.

b.  Harlem Renaissance: a cultural flowering in the New York Black neighbourhood of Harlem, based on jazz, but also excellent Black architects, novelists, poets and painters.   Many of these believed in 'Artistic Action' - winning equality by proving they were equal.

c.  Identity: in 1925 Alain Locke wrote The New Negro, who had to smash the old image of 'Uncle Tom' and 'Sambo', and develop a new identity, 'uplift' the race and fight for equality.   There were Black newspapers and magazines.   This was the time when the phrase was coined: 'Black is Beautiful'.

d.  NAACP: Set up in 1909, it campaigned for civil rights.

e.  One-and-a-half million Black Americans migrated from the south to the north.   Although many of them ended up in low-paid jobs, some of them formed a new Black middle class, and were educated at university.




A lynching (1935) - note the children.



Source A

In the morning, a Black mother sent her children to a school for colored children only.   Going to town, she sat at the back of the bus, in the seats for coloreds.   She went to the posy office for coloreds, visited the library for coloreds, and walked in a separate park.   When she went shopping, she stood in line, so White women could go in front of her.

Her husband went to work, but he was not the boss; that was a job for a White man.   He used a separate rest room, and went to a separate toilet.

John D Clare, The Black Peoples of America (2001)




4.  Prohibition

In 1919 - as the result of a long and powerful campaign (see Source B) - the 18th Amendment to the Constitution made the manufacture, transport or sale of alcoholic drinks illegal.   The Volstead Act, passed at the same time, declared any drink more than 5% proof 'alcoholic'.


Argument 1 - A failure [DAMAGE]:


a.  Drinking continued:  impossible to enforce (not enough police - only 4000 agents, many of whom were sacked for taking bribes).

b.  Available:  the liquor trade just 'went underground'.   speakeasies (illegal bars), moonshine (illegally-made alcohol), bootlegging (smuggling alcohol to sell).   It is sometimes asserted that there were more speakeasies than there had been saloons (not true, but there were 200,000 speakeasies in 1933).

a.  Made criminals of ordinary people

a.  Adverse effects: moonshine was poor quality and sometimes killed people.   'Jackass brandy' caused internal bleeding, 'Soda Pop Moon' contained poisonous alcohol.

a.  Gangsterism flourished running the illegal trade:  It became hugely profitable, and led to a growth of violence, protection rackets etc. associated with the illegal trade (see 'Organised Crime' below).   The general flouting brought the rule of law in general into disrepute as police 'turned a blind eye.   Corruption grew.

a.  End: in 1933 the 21st Amendment abolished Prohibition (= 'proved' that it failed).


Argument 2 - A Success [ALE]:


a.  Alcohol destroyed:  in 1929, 50 million litres of illegal alcohol were discovered and destroyed.

b.  Legacy:  the actual consumption of alcohol fell, not just during prohibition, but for many years after - did not reach pre-1914 levels until 1971.

c.  Eliot Ness and the Untouchables:  became famous as examples of the high standards police SHOULD achieve.





Source B

Why Prohibition [ACRIME]

a.  Anti-Saloon League - campaigned that drink hurt families because men wasted money on beer, that it ruined their health and lost them their jobs, and that it led to domestic violence and neglect.

b.  Christian organisation – esp. Women's Christian Temperance Union – supported prohibition.   (The early 20th century was a time of Christian revival.)

c.  Rural America – scandalised by behaviour in the towns – supported it.

d.  Isolationism – it was said that money spent on drink ‘flew away to Germany’ because much of the beer drunk in America was brewed there.

e.  Madness, crime, poverty and illness were seen as caused by alcohol - many (including BOTH my grandparents, 'signed the pledge' never to drink.)

f.   Easy Street – Charlie Chaplin’s comic film (1917) showed how drink damaged, and Christianity nurtured, families' happiness and prosperity.



Source C

Why Prohibition Failed  [NCP]

a.  Not enough Agents - only 4000

b.  Corruption and bribes – one tenth of Agents sacked for taking bribes

c.  Public support – most people did NOT support a ban.




5.  Organised Crime

Organised crime stepped in to take over from the breweries and spirits manufacturers:

a.  They ran the speakeasies, and bootlegging.

b.  They also ran protection rackets, prostitution and drug-running.

c.  They bribed trade union leaders, police, lawyers, judges and even Senators.

d.  The most famous gangster was Al Capone, who earned $100,000 a year from beer sales alone, ran a private army of more than 700 mobsters, and is thought to have murdered more than 200 opponents.

e.  They fought with each other for control of their 'territory' - the most famous incident was the

St Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, when 'torpedoes' from Capone's gang shot dead 7 members of Bugs Moran's gang.



Source D

Prohibition is a business.   All I do is supply a public demand.   I do it in the best and least harmful way I can

Al Capone


In 1930, Al Capone made the front page of Time magzine

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