The Intolerance Throughout the History of 1920s in US
From 1850 to 1914, 40 million people immigrated to the USA, known as the “Land of the Free”, where they would be free from persecution and bad working conditions, and would instead live in a land of space, opportunity, and a better lifestyle overall. However, as immigrants continued pouring in in the 20s and Americans weren’t changing their prejudiced views and actions against them, the government decided to change immigration policies to decrease the ever-growing population of immigrants in the United States. Nonetheless, intolerance was still highly common, whether caused by and aimed at immigrants, or based off of varying political, racial and religious views between different groups within US society in the 1920s.
Immigration was an important cause for intolerance, as political intolerance was a highly problematic issue which entailed the arrival these ‘foreigners’. After communism started becoming more widespread across the USSR and potentially the world, Americans also became increasingly afraid of communist and anarchist beliefs spreading to America. Hence, they became more and more biased against the immigrants who potentially carried those political beliefs, particularly those who originated from southern and eastern Europe. These immigrants who carried these prospective beliefs were also dubbed as ‘Reds’, and this fear of them became known as the ‘Red Scare’, which was at its height from 1919 to 1921. When strikes started becoming more frequent, such as 3600 strikes involving over 40,000 workers in 1919, the Reds had been held responsible, having been accused of destroying the normal American life. However, even though all these strikes had been blamed on the Reds, many of them had instead been led by workers who were discontented by the bad working conditions and low pay. Similarly, another incident found its way to be an example of political intolerance. In 1919, after a series of bombing incidents, the fear of radicalism increased even more. One of these bombs destroyed the home of attorney-general, Mitchell Palmer. After this attack, Palmer was determined to round up anyone he thought to be a Red, beginning the Palmer Raids. He was successful in arresting 4000-6000 suspected Reds across 30 cities in the US, and 556 of these were deported. However, just like with the strikes, many of these people had been wrongly accused of being Reds and were actually innocent. Both of these examples prove that certain types and groups of people would easily be wrongly accused or blamed due to the and intolerance of Americans. These instances were particularly a result of immigration and the misconceptions that many people carried against immigrants due to their generally varying political views. Some may argue that America was known as the ‘Land of the Free’ where people were free to hold any belief they wanted and that this was for this reason that immigration to the US was so common. While this may have been partially true, the American life turned out very different from what was expected, with many Americans were still highly prejudiced towards those who were different to them, especially when it came to political views. This was the case with the intolerance towards Reds, as the Americans were afraid that communism and political terror would spread to the US and become a problem there as well, hence, all the intolerance and uncalled-for-blaming of issues that were occurring in the 1920s.
On the other hand, intolerance was already a problem throughout US society before immigration even began. Racial intolerance was also a common form of intolerance, and while immigration may have fuelled this further, it wasn’t the most significant cause for racial intolerance. Instead, racial intolerance was led by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was revived in 1915 after the recent freedom of blacks from slavery. The KKK consisted of extremists and fanatics stood for white supremacy, and were against anything foreign. In 1920, the KKK was filled with over 100,000 members, and by 1925, this number had boomed to 5 million. Some of these even included more powerful members of society, such as the governor of Alabama and the Senator of Texas. The fact that powerful members were also a part of this intolerant group meant that the fear and terror that was evoked was even more widespread, which was exactly what the KKK was aiming for – intimidation and control through fear and terror. This was especially common in southern states, where many of the blacks had served as slaves and still lived, often in chronic poverty. There had been numerous cases of lynching by mobs, of blacks who had been accused of causing harm to whites, after which the Klan would dance around the dying men. From 1910 to the late 1920s, thousands of blacks moved up North, to cities, with hopes of better lives, and the black population doubled from 150,000 to 300,000 in this time. However, whether or not related to the KKK, their lives didn’t improve by much. Many were living in ghettos and poverty, with racial riots common. In 1919, there were 23 racial riots, leading to thousands of blacks being driven from their homes. Furthermore, despite the idea that they may have better job prospects after slavery and in the cities, this was not so.
Many areas of employment, including areas where unskilled workers were common, such as in factories, the prejudice faced by blacks made it difficult for them to be hired. In most places, blacks were the last to be hired, and first to be dismissed, if it came to that. Even new immigrants had better job prospects than the vast majority of blacks. However, some blacks weren’t completely unaccepted by society. Many were part of what became the ‘Black Renaissance’, in which blacks could exhibit their culture and pride through art, writing, music and more. Jazz and blues, having been started by black Americans, would become some of the most influential forms of music in the 20th century. Still, on a greater scale, the lives of blacks were very difficult due to the intolerance towards them, such as the Jim Crow laws of segregation in public places, which were only abolished in 1964, a century after the end of slavery.
Additionally to racial intolerance, existing religious intolerance was also already widespread across US society. It was the religious conservatism of Christian fundamentalists, especially those in the southern and midwest ‘Bible Belt’, that fuelled this. With a developing society came a change in attitudes, especially in urban areas of the country. The once-taboo topic of sex became more common to talk and learn about. The young, urban youth of the country had more fun than ever before, indulging in a variety of leisure activities, ranging from entertainment to provocative dancing and the wearing of ‘indecent’ clothing, that was becoming more and more popular and available in this decade. However, rural citizens were very much against this, feeling that this way of living was too tempting for their children and would drive away from the values of hard work and saving money. Thus, the intolerance towards this new behaviour and un-Christian actions grew within the more conservative parts of the country. As a result, many states in the Bible Belt went on to pass laws to prevent these activities from becoming too widespread across rural areas. Additionally, six states, one of which was Tennessee, banned the teaching of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, forcing students to be taught that God was the one who created the world to be as it is. These changes in laws, and especially what children should be taught, only increased the intolerance between Christians and others. To try and challenge this law, science teacher John Scopes willingly went to court to be tried for teaching Darwin’s Theory in his classes. The ‘Monkey Trial’ called for lots of attention and sparked a lot of controversy. During his trial in July 1925, more than 100 newsmen were present, and this became the first American trial being broadcast on the radio, creating an audience much wider than just the courtroom. Moreover, another case of religious intolerance caused the major issue of prohibition, which scarred US society from 1920 and into the early 1930s. The persistence of Christian conservatism, led by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and the Anti-Saloon League, and their intolerance for the wide consumption of alcohol by a growing audience, was what eventually allowed prohibition to happen. However, their success came with its consequences, such as leading to more violence and gangsterism to find its way into the lives of citizens, as well as increased corruption and other societal issues.
Therefore, this shows that the actions caused by the attempt to advocate for religious conservatism caused many more problems in society than just intolerant views, while also getting more people involved than exclusively those that were affected. One might argue that the people involved or affected in the Monkey Trial were only a mere few since only a few states had adopted the new laws regarding children’s education, but overall, religious intolerance, including, on a larger scale, ended up affecting the whole country with its laws and effects of Prohibition and broadcasting of the Monkey Trial.
In conclusion, intolerance was caused by a variety of factors, which also led to a range of different forms of intolerance. One of these causes, of course, was immigration. Immigration led to a wide range of problems, such as the way people lived, but also political intolerance, as shown with the Red Scare and the events that it entailed. However, immigration wasn’t the only thing that caused intolerance, as many other forms of intolerance had already been at large before and during the consequences caused by immigration. From racial intolerance to religious intolerance and examples such as the KKK and the Monkey Trial, these cases affected a wider range of people, while also attracting more international attention. Hence, immigration, while a cause for intolerance, was not the most important cause for it, due to the many, already-existing, internal problems that fuelled the majority of intolerance in the US in the 1920s.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below