US History/Roaring Twenties and Prohibition

Politics and Government


Presidency of Warren G. Harding


A new sympathy toward business was shown in the election of Republican Warren G. Harding as president in 1920. His administration helped streamline federal spending with the Budgeting and Accounting Act of 1921, supported anti-lynching legislation (which was, however, rejected by Congress), and approved bills assisting farm cooperatives and liberalizing farm credit.



The Harding administration was also known for its scandals. He had had an affair with the wife of an Ohio merchant: the resulting daughter was never officially acknowledged. He also appointed some cronies, who saw office as an invitation to personal gain. One of those men was Charles Forbes, head of the Veterans Bureau. He was convicted of fraud and bribery in connection with government contracts, and was sent to prison. Another crony, Attorney General Harry Daugherty, was involved with an illegal liquor scheme. He only escaped prosecution by refusing to testify against himself.

Teapot Dome Scandal

The most notorious of these scandals was the revelation that the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, accepted bribes to lease government property to private oil companies in the Teapot Dome Scandal. The popular conservation legislation created by Harding's predecessors, presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, had set aside naval petroleum reserves in Wyoming and California. Three naval oil fields, Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills in California and Teapot Dome in Wyoming, were tracts of public land meant as emergency underground supplies to be used by the navy only when regular oil supplies diminished. Teapot Dome received its name because of a rock resembling a teapot above the oil-bearing land. Politicians and private oil interests had opposed the restrictions placed on the oil fields, claiming that the reserves were unnecessary, and that the American oil companies could provide for the U.S. Navy.[1][2]

Civil and criminal suits concerning Teapot Dome lasted through the 1920s. In 1927 the Supreme Court finally ruled that the oil leases had been corruptly obtained and invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February of that year and the Teapot lease in October of the same year. The navy regained control of Teapot Dome and Elk Hills reserves. Albert Fall was found guilty of bribery in 1929, fined $100,000, and sentenced to one year in prison. Harry Sinclair refused to cooperate with the government investigators, was charged with contempt, and received a short sentence for jury tampering. Edward Doheny was acquitted in 1930 of attempts to bribe Fall.

The Teapot Dome scandal was a victory for neither political party. It became a major issue in the presidential election of 1924, but neither party could claim full credit for divulging the wrongdoing. It became the first true evidence of government corruption in America. The scandal revealed the problem of natural resource scarcity and the need to protect for the future against emergency depletion of resources. Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who assumed the presidency after Harding's death, handled the problem very systematically, and his administration avoided any damage to its reputation.



Although there were innumerable technical innovations, the vast changes in American life about this time had two major technical bases, mass production (the assembly line), and mass testing.

In the vast steel factories and in cloth mills individuals had to move together with the machines. Any mistake could lead to an accident, perhaps a fatal one. Henry Ford's assembly line worked on the same principle, but went much further. A car went from station to station, from worker to worker. Each worker had one function—tightening nuts, adding a component—and only that function, as if he were himself a machine. His main interest was in doing those motions which would do his job and do it most efficiently. (In this respect the system drew upon work efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Gilbreths.)

The advantages to this extreme systemization were fundamental. As with the cloth factories, the product was produced extremely quickly at all hours of the day or night. Very little training was needed for those jobs. The results of this system were extremely long-lasting. The Model T was seen as a durable car, and "the tin Lizzie" retained public affection even when it was superseded by cars with self-starters. The cars were also affordable, with results as seen below. Henry Ford raised his wages regularly, urging that the men who made the cars also buy them.

A small demerit was that these new cars were extremely ugly. The Stanley Steamer had been sleek, with lines like what would later be called "streamlining." Dusenbergs and Pierce-Arrows had a variety of hues and such extras as bud vases. Ford famously said that his purchasers could have any color they wanted, "so long as it is black." As people became more prosperous, they could shop for colored paint jobs and detailing for their luxury cars. However, creating affordable and beautiful goods was a movement away from Ford's version of the market.

More importantly, working on the assembly line wore on the workers. Standing in one place and squinting, working with a few muscles for hours a day (or night) could be very fatiguing. Human beings weren't made to live like that. When there were a limited set of priorities for working, workers could be easily replaced, just like machines. Not every boss of the assembly line paid as well as Ford.

Mass testing was a requirement for the assembly line—a bad part made a bad product. But it had actually begun as a human policy, in the requirements for the late 19th Century census. It was accelerated in the desire to find sound men for the First World War. Psychologists were employed to create intelligence tests to weed out unfit soldiers. Their weapons had to be carefully inspected, for when shoddy goods reached the front lines, the result could be a disaster.

In the post-war world, Big Business began developing research and development departments. Before a change was implemented, there had to be a prototype, and the effects on the public had to be carefully measured. Economics became a matter, not merely of becoming prosperous, but of selling to the largest number possible. (The term mass market originated in the 1920s.)

The Automobile

A scene from Tampa, Florida. Here Pedestrians, Trollies, and Street cars can be seen crossing a bridge at the same time.

In the 1920s, the United States automobile industry began an extraordinary period of growth by means of the assembly line in manufacturing. Cars began to alter the American lifestyle. In 1929, one out of every five Americans had a car. They began using their own automobiles instead of the street cars. Cars also replaced horses. This made the streets cleaner, because there wasn't as much horse manure. (However, this was replaced by other, more subtle forms of pollution. In the 1920s gasoline companies started adding lead to their fuel to increase engine efficiency.)

The idea of "homes on wheels" was also created around this time. Americans were packing up food and camping equipment in order to get away from home.[3] By the 1920s most automobiles gained cloth or steel roofs, offering a private space for courtship and sex. Women gained from the automobile revolution. Women who learned to drive achieved new-found independence, taking touring trips with female friends, conquering muddy roads, and making repairs when their vehicles broke down. Prosperous African Americans for the first time obtained a limited freedom from local discrimination. A family could drive around and past "closed" White communities, and to beaches, camps, and other holiday destinations. (However, the family car would have to carry its own food, drink and gas, and not stop before it reached its destination. The largest-scale pamphlet for "safe" businesses African Americans could use, the Negro Motorist Green Book, was only published beginning in 1936.) The car was the ultimate social equalizer.

A 1927 Ford Model T

There were 108 automobile manufacturers in 1923 and colors allowed owners to express personal tastes. An abundance of fuel fed these cars. In 1920, the United States produced sixty-five percent of the World's oil. Road construction was extensive. The first timed stop-and-go traffic light was in 1924.[4]

Industries related to the manufacturing and use of automobiles also grew; petroleum, steel, and glass were in high demand, leading to growth and profitability in related sectors. State governments began to build roads and highways in rural areas. Gasoline stations were installed across the country, evidence of the sudden and continued growth of the petroleum industry. Automobile dealers introduced the installment plan, a financing concept that was adopted in many other parts of business. Thus, the automobile industry's growth had repercussions throughout the nation. With a perfected design of Henry Ford's assembly line automobiles began to be more affordable for the common US citizens all over the country. A lot of men were hired to work in car factories.

Health and Life Expectancy


The relation between food and health had long been known. For example, since the 18th century it has been known how to fight scurvy, and mariners have taken fruit on long voyages. Yet the fact that scurvy is caused by lack of vitamin c was only discovered in 1932.

From 1915 to the end of the 1920s most vitamins were discovered. Food regulation began to ensure a safer food supply. People began to have access to and the possibility of choosing more and better food, due to faster transport and refrigeration. Technical information was also more easily transmitted, and by 1930 nutritionists began to emphasize to the public the need for consumption of certain foods, and their constituent vitamins and minerals, on a daily basis. Food companies began marketing their products, on how their products contain certain amounts of your daily vitamins and therefore healthy. However, the advertisements sometimes contained unusual ideas about nutrition. For example, some candy bars were advertised by their "food value." And Welch's Grape Juice marketed their product as containing nutrients and vitamins, but failed to inform the reader of the large amount of sugar also included.

But the emphasis on nutrition and good hygiene made many Americans healthier. This was the decade when penicillin and insulin were discovered. During this time the life expectancy at birth in the United States also increased from fifty-four to sixty percent, and infant mortality rate decreased by one-third. However this was not the case for nonwhites: the mortality rate for nonWhite children was about fifty to one hundred times that of Whites during this era. (Rickets among the poor and among rural African Americans was seen as the result of poor genetics, "bad blood." The American fad for Eugenics and the sterilization movement also grew in this era.) Accident fatalities also increased by roughly 150 percent, for the car was becoming faster and more common.

Elderly Americans and Retirement


As more adults survived into old age, an interest in pensions and other forms of old age assistance grew. In the third decade of the 20th century, one third of Americans sixty-five and older depended financially on someone else. Over the past fifty years many European countries had established state-supported pension systems. In 1923 the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce called old-age assistance “un-American & socialistic.” But during the 1920s state resistance to pension plans eroded. Isaac Max Rubinow and Abraham Epstein attempted to persuade legislators and associations such as labor unions to endorse old-age assistance. By 1933 almost every state gave some minimal support to needy elderly.

Culture of the 1920's

Flapper fashion became a symbol of the 1920s

During this time period, new social values emerged. It became difficult to determine what was socially acceptable, as youth frequently took up smoking, drinking, and a new openness about sex. They were being influenced less by their parents and more by their peers and schoolmates. Schools in the cities geared up for mass education, segregating children with others of their same age. The rite of passage, dating without adult supervision, became more commonplace among these youth.

The Flapper was the female symbol of this change, as the raccoon-coated Sheik was the symbol among young men. The dresses then in fashion de-emphasized the bodice, with a flat abdomen, the so-called "boyish figure." Flappers did not have the long hair of their mothers and grandmothers, but short, "bobbed" styles. They drank and smoked like men, knew all the latest dances and songs, and openly swore and talked of sex. It is unknown how frequent the Flapper really was. Bobbed hair was fashionable among women and girls, but there was never a standard measurement of this or any related trend. Movie actresses such as Louise Brooks and Clara Bow were shown drinking on the big screen, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's writings showed a literary interest in the Flapper.

During the War, servicemen became used to lectures on preventing venereal disease, and thus became more comfortable with the idea of contraception. Condoms started to be made with latex instead of animal tissues, and became a product which could be mass-produced on an assembly line. Birth control became more available, and more respectable. With a greater chance for babies to survive infancy, and with the ability to time when they came into the world, the number of children in a middle-class family began to go from four or five to two or three. Unfortunately, this overlapped with the eugenics movement.

As the middle class became more mobile, it was much less able to rely on the advice of grandparents and family, and "expert" child care advice became popular. This advice was different from that commonly used nowadays. John B. Watson, who published his book in 1928, advised against picking up infants, holding them when they cried, or cossetting them or showing them too much affection.


People using a radio.

Radio had been used for ship-to-shore communication since the Titanic sent out a Morse code S-O-S. It was used by both sides during the First World War. Wilson considered nationalizing the medium, as Great Britain was later to nationalize the British Broadcasting Corporation, but corporate outcry overruled him.[5] By 1920, thousands of curious machines produced screeches for the hobbyist, with an occasional, distant snatch of voices or music. In 1920 the assembly line did its work, producing an RCA "Cat's Whisker" receiver for under four dollars. In October of that year Westinghouse created the first radio station, KDKA. In November it provided running coverage of the Presidential elections.[6]

By the mid-'20s programming ran from morning till night. In 1924, the first radio network, the National Broadcasting Company, began operations between New York and Boston. In 1927, the Columbia Broadcasting System began. The Federal Radio Commission was set up in 1926, and organized in the Radio Act of 1927. Advertisers sponsored programs: one popular music program was The A & P Gypsies, giving coast-to-coast coverage to the A & P grocery stores. The news and entertainment provided was vetted by the sponsor, and anything which would offend sponsors was forbidden. But within those lines much was permitted. One could occasionally find high culture (though the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts only began at the end of 1931), but the aim was to air songs in the middle range of culture; "The Lost Chord," or "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes." They played popular music, but not much jazz: Paul Whiteman, the so-called "King of Jazz," was not. (There were exceptions to this rule; some high-powered radio stations in Mexico poured out jazz, "Black music," and ads for toxic patent medicines.) Much of the country's culture was not covered, though the Grand Ole Opry began its broadcasts in 1925. But as electrification expanded, the market for radio grew, and some stations experimented. A pair of White comedians, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, created a comic, sentimental serial drama, Amos 'n' Andy. At a time when lynchings of African Americans occurred as far North as Ohio, this was a comedy about two stupid African Americans who mispronounced their words. But it also created sympathy for them. "One episode ended with Amos and Andy in desperate need of a typewriter; nearly two thousand typewriters were immediately sent in by listeners." Yet " Amos 'n' Andy 's popularity was no doubt due to excitement over this new national experience. For the first time Americans could all enjoy the same event at the same moment."[7]


Charlie Chaplin, a famous British movie star by the 1920s, helped establish an early Hollywood studio.[8]

In the 1920s movies also grew into a popular recreation. By 1922, about 40 million people were going to the movies each week; that number jumped to about 100 million people by the end of the decade. Movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin became known around the world.

Eight studios dominated the industry, consolidating and integrating all aspects of a film's development. By 1929, the film-making firms that were to rule and monopolize Hollywood for the next half-century were the giants or the majors, sometimes dubbed The Big Five. The Big Five studios were Warner Bros., RKO, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Fox Film Corporation. They produced more than 90 percent of the fiction films in America and distributed their films both nationally and internationally. Each studio somewhat differentiated its products from other studios.

A movie house was only allowed to play the products of one studio. Thus, for example, the New York Paramount only played cartoons, newsreels, and fiction films created by Paramount Studios. (In the 1920s Paramount distributed the work of Max Fleischer Studios, creator of the Koko the Clown Cartoons.) Each division of the studio was contracted to make so many films each year. If a movie house wanted to get the films of a Gloria Swanson or a Rudolf Valentino, it had to accept a given number of films by a less-liked star. This "block booking" ensured that certain actors got publicity and kept the screens under the thumb of the studio. However, in return each theater was ensured of a weekly change of movies, with the full backing of the studio. In addition to the projectionist, ushers and candy and cigarette sellers, the Paramount Theater employed a grand musician to accompany the silent film on one of the largest theater organs ever created. Its halls were ornamented by hand-painted murals. The top-line theaters were called "movie palaces."

The most popular studio movies often used sweepingly romantic stories set in exotic lands: Argentina in 1921's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Persia in 1924's The Thief of Bagdad. The 1925 movie Ben Hur was shot partially in Italy and partially on huge purpose-built sets in California. It had 42 cameras shooting the still-famous chariot race. Among the famous or yet-to-be-famous figures swelling the scenes as extras were the Barrymore brothers, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, comedian Harold Lloyd, William Randolph Hearst's love Marion Davies, and studio head Samuel Goldwyn. The religious sequences used two-tone technicolor. It was the most expensive film yet made.[9]


Agents pour alcohol into a sewer following a raid.

Although total alcohol consumption halved, some people blatantly disregarded Prohibition. There were loopholes in the Volstead Act, the twenty-two page law which defined Prohibition. Churches could use wine in their ceremonies, and alcohol drunk as a medicine (this was still part of the medical profession) was still allowed. The amount of "religious" and "medicinal" wine suddenly increased.

Some illegal alcohol was imported from Canada, Cuba, and Mexico, which never made alcohol illegal. Some was home-made American. Bootleggers were found in many places throughout the country, from backwoods stills (illegal alcohol production had continued after the Whiskey Rebellion) to urban "bathtub gin." The Volstead Act had said that personal consumption of alcohol in one's own home was legal, though it had prohibited public gatherings to drink. The occasional secret saloons called speakeasies which sprang up in cities were therefore illegal. These required money, and a new criminal underworld rose to fund them and profit from them. Some of this money funded pay-offs to police to stop enforcement of Prohibition. Gangs prospered in this hidden economy. Many jobs came out of Prohibition, both from alcohol and from the "front" legitimate businesses set up to launder speakeasy money. However, these jobs came with great risks, from blackmail and graft to outright violence. Some commentators felt that Prohibition was too harsh and that it made a criminal out of the average American man or woman, who would have bought alcohol legally if it were available.

Gangs and Violence

Machine Gun Kelly, taken in by police

There was obviously a huge market for what in the 1920s was an illegal commodity. Gangsters provided this commodity. Major gangsters in this period included Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Mayer Lansky, and "Dutch" Schultz. Perhaps the most notorious was Chicago's Al Capone. Capone smuggled alcohol all over the Midwest. He was also responsible for drug smuggling and murder, and bribed both police and important politicians.

Despite the deference given Capone by "bought" figures, he had enemies from other Chicago gangs. He rode in an armor-plated limousine, always accompanied by armed bodyguards. Violence was a daily occurrence in Chicago. 227 gangsters were killed in the space of four years. On St Valentine's Day, 1929, seven members of the O'Banion gang were shot dead by gangsters dressed as police officers.

In 1931, the government got around the corrupted regular police by arresting Capone for tax evasion, rather than for his many violent offenses. He got eleven years in jail, and left prison with his health broken.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were also a famous pair of murderers and thieves in the 1920s during the prohibition era with their gang. Clyde Champion Barrow and his companion, Bonnie Parker, were shot to death by officers in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934, after one of the most colorful and spectacular manhunts the nation had seen up to that time. Barrow was suspected of numerous killings and was wanted for murder, robbery, and state charges of kidnapping.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), then called the Bureau of Investigation, became interested in Barrow and his paramour late in December 1932 through a singular bit of evidence. A Ford automobile, which had been stolen in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was found abandoned near Jackson, Michigan in September of that year. At Pawhuska, it was learned another Ford car had been abandoned there which had been stolen in Illinois. A search of this car revealed it had been occupied by a man and a woman, indicated by abandoned articles therein. In this car was found a prescription bottle, which led special agents to a drug store in Nacogdoches, Texas, where investigation disclosed the woman for whom the prescription had been filled was Clyde Barrow's aunt.

Further investigation revealed that the woman who obtained the prescription had been visited recently by Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde's brother, L. C. Barrow. It also was learned that these three were driving a Ford car, identified as the one stolen in Illinois. It was further shown that L. C. Barrow had secured the empty prescription bottle from a son of the woman who had originally obtained it.

On May 20, 1933, the United States Commissioner at Dallas, Texas, issued a warrant against Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, charging them with the interstate transportation, from Dallas, to Oklahoma, of the automobile stolen in Illinois. The FBI then started its hunt for this elusive pair.

Religions and Revivalism


Just as the Religious section of the newspaper had long been popular, the new medium of radio became a way to increase religious visibility. Churches bought broadcasting slots from stations eager to seem like good neighbors. City stations might broadcast programs of interest to Catholics and Jews, as well as from minority faiths or cults. This impinged on listeners, coming into their homes, as printed media did not.

The religious revival had been a feature of both mainline denominations and smaller sects since the turn of the century. Both mainline and independent preachers called upon listeners to give up frivolity and turn to a purer faith. Many of these sermons condemned movies and theatre, novels and card gambling, drinking and modern fashion, including women's short dresses and makeup. Many of them had supported the imposition of Prohibition. The Twenties provided electric lighting, amplification, and radio coverage for revivals. Some popular preachers traveled by train or motor car to cities and towns across the country. Aimee Semple McPherson and Billy Sunday were among the most notable of these, and aroused controversy.


Louis Armstrong

Jazz is an American musical art form which originated around the beginning of the 20th century in Black communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions. The “hometown” of jazz is considered to be in New Orleans. Early jazz musicians would called New Orleans their home even if they have never been there. Jazz employed a number of Black men and women. Jazz spread through America very quickly.[10] The style's West African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, call-and-response, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation, and the swung note of ragtime. Beginning in 1922, Gennett Records began recording jazz groups performing in Chicago. The first group they recorded was the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, followed in 1923 by King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong. Another indie company in Chicago, Paramount Records, was competing with Gennett and Okeh for jazz talent.[11] The Black community took notice: authors such as Langston Hughes often mentioned the music in his poems, both positively and negatively.

Business Overseas


After the war, many manufacturing companies faced hard times as they attempted to convert from wartime production of weapons and planes to what they had traditionally produced before the war. However, the pro-business policies put in place first by Harding, then Coolidge, allowed business to flourish. While business did well at home—the raising of tariff rates from 27% (under the Underwood-Simmons Tariff) to 41% certainly helped in this regard—many major companies did quite well overseas. Just as these companies had started to do before the war, they set up shop in a variety of countries based around the resources located there. Meat packers like Gustavus Swift went to Argentina; fruit growers went to Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala; sugar plantation owners went to Cuba; rubber plantation owners to the Philippines, Sumatra, and Malaya; copper corporations to Chile; and oil companies to Mexico and Venezuela (which remains today a great source for oil). Steamships and telegraphs made for easy transport and communication.

Organized Labor

Blair mountain miner with rifle. After the Matewan Massacre rallied local unions to take up arms, anti union forces and government troops retaliated against organized labor with violence.

The Organized labor force during the 1920s suffered a great deal. During this time the country was fearful of the spread of communism in America, because of this widespread fear public opinion was against any worker who attempted to disrupt the order of the working class. The public was so anti-labor union that in 1922 the Harding administration was able to get a court injunction to destroy a railroad workers strike that was about 400,000 strong. Also in 1922 the government took part in putting to an end a nationwide miners strike that consisted of about 650,000 miners. The federal and state level of government had no toleration for strikes, and allowed for businesses to sue the unions for any damages done during a strike.

Major Cases


The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, Leopold and Loeb, the Scopes Trial, and the Black Sox Trial were all significant court cases during the 1920s. Each of these court cases were unique and monumental in their own right, and set a precedent for the years to come.

The Scopes Trial

A photo of the Trial proceedings.

In 1925, John Thomas Scopes, a biology teacher, was tried and convicted in Tennessee for teaching about evolution in his public school classroom as an explanation of the origin of humans, as opposed to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, which was supported by state law at the time. This was a major dispute and caught the attention of many popular government officials such as William Jennings Bryan, who spoke on behalf of the prosecution. Bryan saw evolution as not only pernicious in its own right, but as a platform for eugenics: the textbook that Scopes used, Civic Biology, advocated "racial hygiene." Although the modernists lost the case, they still were happy to have highlighted the illogical reasoning behind the law that schools could not teach alternative theories for the origin of man. They were also happy that this trial and conviction didn't affect the expansion of fundamentalist ideals. The Southern Baptist Convention, a Protestant group, became one of the fastest growing denominations after the trial showing that it may have even given popularity to the religious denomination. The beliefs of these groups resulted in an independent subculture with their own schools, radio programs, and missionary societies.

Minority Women


During the 1920s there were almost double the amount of minority women than White in the workforce. Women, especially minorities, who held factory jobs held the least desirable and lowest paying jobs in factories. Black women mostly held domestic jobs such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. There were many openings for educated minority women in the social work, teaching, and nursing fields during this time, however they faced much discrimination. The economic needs of the family brought thousands of minority women into having to work. Mexican women, mainly in the Southwest worked as domestic servants, operatives in garment factories, and as agricultural laborers. This was looked down upon because the Mexican culture traditionally was against women labor. Next to African women, Japanese women were the most likely to hold low paying jobs in the work force, they worked in the lowest paying jobs; they faced very strong racial biases and discrimination on a regular basis as well.

African-Americans and the Ku Klux Klan


Rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan


Southern states segregated public facilities (like buses). In half the South fewer than 10% of the Blacks were allowed to vote.

The Ku Klux Klan flourished 1921–26 with a membership of millions of Protestants. Not only was the Ku Klux Klan big in the south, but in such northern states as Ohio, Oregon, and Indiana. Indiana's governor and an Oregon mayor were both members of the KKK. Many KKK members were women, nearly a half million in women's auxiliary associations. Klansmen organized marches and violence against African-Americans, Catholics, and Jews, as well as bootleggers and adulterers. They gained new support from nativists who had detested the mass immigration to the Northeast in the early 1900s.

The return of the Klan caused a split in the Democratic Party which allowed Calvin Coolidge, a conservative Republican, to take office in 1924.

Blacks were widely persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, but they were not the only group of people that the KKK targeted because they believed in “Native, White, Protestant supremacy.” They also targeted groups like Mexicans, Jews and Catholics. A Klu Klux Klan newspaper ran a doggerel poem of a dialogue between the Pope and the Devil, with the latter saying the KKK "will make it hotter than I can for you in hell."[12] The Ku Klux Klan would also try and bring justice into their own hands when it came to dealing with bootleggers, wife beaters and adulterers, and even the Knights of Columbus.[13]

The Great Migration


In most cities, the only way Blacks could relieve the pressure of crowding that resulted from increasing migration was to expand residential borders into surrounding previously White neighborhoods, a process that often resulted in harassment and attacked by White residents whose intolerant attitudes were intensified by fears that Black neighbors would cause property values to decline. Moreover, the increased presence of Blacks in cities, North and South, as well as their competition with Whites for housing, jobs, and political influence sparked a series of race riots. The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 (where a town was wiped off the map by racist violence) were examples of this extreme of hatred. The Tulsa Race Riots involved the local white community looting a prosperous and thriving black community, and destroying it with arson and an aerial bombing by plane.[14]

The Great Migration ignited hatred toward Blacks in Northern big cities. Blacks migrated to cities such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit, and in Western cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Although most of the migrants were poor and lived in cheap urban housing, some were able to afford better houses in White neighborhoods. However, even prosperous people were unable to live where they wanted. Discrimination could be as open as the notice in Wanted ads -- "No Negroes allowed"—or as quiet as the refusal of a real estate agent. The brave Black family who actually bought in those neighborhoods would face snubs from the neighbors, refusal of services from local businesses, and sometimes covert or open violence. (An example of this last is seen in Detroit's Ossian Sweet case of 1925.)



To fight this discrimination many Black movement groups formed. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was formed by Marcus Garvey, an immigrant from Jamaica living in Harlem. Garvey preached a message of equality that many, including other Black leaders, considered radical. Garvey helped start companies and news papers directed towards the Black community. He gained many followers around the US, especially in cities. Amritjit Singh [1] estimates that Garvey and the UNIA had over half a million followers. Garvey created more racial cohesion and inspired the Black community to stand up. Yet others, including the prominent Black author W.E.B. Du Bois, considered Garvey's approach extreme and believed that it would backfire. Du Bois believed in a "gradualist" strategy, working through education and the legal system. He and some other Black leaders petitioned the U.S. Attorney General and had Garvey deported back to Jamaica. Yet Garvey's message lived on long after he was deported, and he was one of the early inspirations of 1960 civil rights leader Malcolm X.

The Harlem Renaissance

African American Women in Harlem in 1925.

In New York City's Harlem and in half a dozen other Northern cities, a Black culture began to form as a result of the relative economic and educational advantages given through the Great Migration. Black businesses, legal and political systems, and arts societies flourished. Here "the talented tenth" had its own business and fraternal institutions. Poets Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer, and musicians such as Chick Webb and Duke Ellington were published in mainstream magazines and heard in White-frequented (though sometimes segregated) clubs. The Harlem Renaissance talked of the contemporary Black community's hopes and fears.

Other races during the 1920's


The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave indigenous people in the United States citizenship.[15]

The Immigration Act of 1924 effectively eliminated immigration from Asia, and limited the immigration of Jews, Italians, and Eastern Europeans.[16][17]

The End of Prosperity and the Stock Market Crash of 1929

A crowd gathering outside the New York stock exchange following the stock market crash.

In the 1920s, farmers did not do so well. A lot of farms did not have running water or electricity, and pay was low due to surplus. World War I had disrupted farming in Europe and the warring European nations greatly depended on American farming for food.[18] When peace came, demand for crops like cotton and grain suddenly fell but farmers kept planting at wartime rates,[19] so they were left without money to pay off their loans or new devices like tractors.

A lot of farmers were dependent growing cotton. However, in the twenties the price of cotton plummeted because of new man-made materials that entered the market. Matters were made worse by the invasion of the boll weevil, an insect which planted its eggs in the boll (cotton blossom), and ate the cotton. The Southern economy was partially saved through following the urging of inventor George Washington Carver and planting peanuts instead of cotton. In 1925-1927 George Washington Carver patented two uses for peanuts, and hundreds of more inventions from soybeans, pecans, and even sweet potatoes. Some inventions he made from peanuts and soybeans are paper, instant coffee, shaving cream, mayonnaise, soap, and talcum powder. None of these procedures were ever recorded by him in a notebook. He urged increased participation of Blacks in agricultural education.

On October 24, 1929, today known as Black Thursday, the stock market began its downhill drop. After the first hour, the prices had gone down at an amazing speed. Some people thought that after that day, the prices would rise again just as it had done before. But prices kept dropping. On October 29, 1929, Black Tuesday, more than 16 million shares were sold, but by the end of the day, most stocks ended below their previous value, and some stocks became totally worthless. By November 13, the prices had hit rock bottom. The stock AT&T had gone from 304 dollars to 197. Much of America had celebrated unheard of prosperity for eight years, but the Stock Market Crash put an end to that within a few weeks.

Questions For Review


1. Name the economic effects of one of the following: the automobile; mass production as a whole; the boll weevil.

World War I · US History · Great Depression and New Deal


  2. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The New Era:1920-1929,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009).
  3. "A People and A Nation" the eighth edition
  4. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The New Era; 1920-1929,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009).
  5. Jones, Gerard. Honey, I'm Home! Sitcoms: Selling the American Dream. First edition. New York: Grove Weidenfeld (Grove Press), 1992. p. 7
  6. Jones, Gerard. p. 8
  7. Jones, Gerard, p. 19
  8. Jarrett, Steve. "The Cinema Century — February 16, 1918 | | Wake Forest University". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  9. IMDB trivia page for Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), Retrieved on August 15, 2014.
  11. Some famous early jazz musicians include King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, and Duke Ellington.
  12. "The Pope's Last Call," "Elsie Thornton." Originally printed in Alabama KKK Newsletter, June 1926. p. 4. Box 16, Folder 11: Association Records, Ku Klux Klan, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery. Recalled on October 18, 2014:'sLastCall.html
  13. A People and A Nation Eighth Edition
  14. "The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and its enduring financial fallout". Harvard Gazette. 18 June 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2020. 
  15. "Education from LVA: Indian Citizenship Act". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  16. "An "Un-American Bill": A Congressman Denounces Immigration Quotas". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  17. "Asians and Asian Exclusion". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  18. Shmoop Editorial Team. "Economy in The 1920s" Shmoop University, Inc..11 November 2008. (accessed November 22, 2013).
  19. Katers, Nicholas. "The Roaring Twenties and the Struggles of Immigrants, Farmers, and Other Interest Groups." Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo!, 30 Mar. 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

World War I · Great Depression and New Deal