Forward to 1930s The Magical History Tour World War I
It's time to have some fun! Go to the top of this page and try some of the dances of the 1920s like the Charleston, Fox Trot, and Lindy Hop. Also, you may choose to do Dance Analysis Worksheets. Be careful! Don't hurt yourselves! lol
In 1919, life in the U.S. revealed both frustration with the war and disappointment with the Progressive Era reforms. That year also revealed how much U.S. life had changed since the turn of the century. Life was still hard.
The average workday remained at 10 hours a day for 6 day weeks. 1.7 million children still worked in factories, coal mines, and other locations. 1/5 of Americans lived in poverty. Epidemics like yellow fever, influenza, and other diseases were common.
Another danger had also developed. By 1920, seven million automobiles were on the roads. By 1930, there will be 30 millions cars on the roads. What had happened? The main answer to that is Henry Ford. He applied the ideas of the assembly line and interchangeable parts introduced by Eli Whitney. With that automobiles became affordable for many Americans. Before Ford's innovation, cars cost thousands of dollars. With the assembly line, cars cost around $300 depending on "options."
Going for a drive in the 1920s was a real adventure. Roads were nothing more than horse paths. There were no signal lights, stop signs, driving tests, speed limits in most places, or other laws. The impact of the car had a huge impact on American life.
The car changed the roles of teenagers who were given freedom from the family. (I've always wondered how long it took teens to figure out what you could do in a car beside driving.) The car changed where Americans worked and lived. They no longer were forced to live next to their jobs. The manufacturing of cars also stimulated the economy. Think of the other industries that need the automobile industry. Everything from glass, rubber, and petroleum were winners in the car phenomenon. The car also increased demands for government to regulate and enforce laws including the hiring of traffic law enforcement. Of course, cars also led to yet another debate about women.
Many believed women could and should not be allowed to drive. Some said women were not strong enough to drive. Certainly at first with the crank starter at the front of the Model T required strength but electric starters were introduced very quickly solving that problem. As early as 1909, Alice Ramsey and friends drove across the U.S. to prove women could drive. But the debate continued although no ban emerged and eventually women drivers were accepted. When racing cars became a problem, though, again women had to face the argument that they were not strong enough to race cars. If you are a fan of NASCAR or other racing, women are still rare but I love Danica Patrick. Women are still making "firsts" in the world of racing.
Other issues also plagued the American mood in general. In 1919, the World Series of baseball was fixed. Eight players for the Chicago White Sox took bribes to throw the series. As a result, the Cincinnati Red Sox won five games to three games. Great players including "Shoeless" Joe Jackson who had a .356 batting average and was a great outfielder, were caught in the scandal. One of their reasons was the owner of the club, Charles Comiskey. He paid less that other owners and to the players he was a tyrant. When he cut wages even more, the players wanted revenge and did not think they would get caught. They were caught, banned from baseball, and the team got the nickname the "Black Sox" since everything that is bad is black. Have you ever noticed that? There are many examples in history such as "Black Tuesday" and "Black Blizzard." I don't want to be overly politically correct but I do find it somewhat annoying.
The mood in the U.S. worsened. Everything seemed to be going wrong. The war had accomplished little, Progressive Era reforms had not solved problems, and there was a post-war recession. Race riots were common (26 in 1919 alone). The worst in 1919 was in Chicago. In addition, there were thousands of labor strikes, a series of mail bombings, and the threat of Communism as result of the Bolshevik Revolution with the Communist party in the U.S. forming in 1919.
Hysteria swept the nation. It was called the "Red Scare." The Red Scare was an anti-radical hysteria after World War I. Although less than one percent of Americans claimed being "radical" (Communist, Socialist, Anarchist), many Americans saw this as a threat in need of eradication. States passed anti-radical laws, but the federal government became most active in the Red Scare. President Wilson's Attorney General, Mitchel Palmer, led the purge. He in turn appoint J. Edgar Hoover to find the radicals. Hoover will be a part of U.S. history until his death in 1972. But, he got his beginning in 1924. He collected information on radicals during the Red Scare and then was appointed Director of the newly created Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935 where he served until his death.
Hoover's findings led to the so-called "Palmer Raids." Government investigators broke into homes and offices without warrants. 6,000 Americans were arrested and 600 deported including anarchist Emma Goldman who was taken in by England. Radical labor groups like the International Workers of the World (or Wobblies) received harassment and many groups were destroyed. Some people were even executed as in the Sacco and Vanzetti Case. Recent forensic testing suggest Sacco was guilt of murder but there still is little evident against Vanzetti. Here's a good overview of what happened: Sacco and Vanzetti.
All the trouble brought about nostalgia among Americans. They longed for the "good old days" before all the turmoil. They wanted to return to simpler times. Do you hear this from your parents or grandparents? Some days I long for the good old days of the 1960s but then remember the Vietnam War, Civil Rights violent, and other problems. But, it is easy to think the past was better and that's what happened in the 1920s. The Republican party benefited from this nostalgia.
All three Presidents in the 1920s were Republicans. There are links for each of them above. But, briefly, Warren G. Harding was elected in 1920 with the motto "A return to normalcy." He made up the word "normalcy." That meant a return to laissez-faire government, non-enforcement of regulations on business, and scandals. Harding was never directly involved but men he appointed to office were. He tended to appoint his "cronies" to offices even if not qualified. He told a story about his father. His father told Harding "It's a good thing you weren't born a girl. You don't know how to say 'no.' You would be pregnant all the time." Harding could not say no to his friends and was not a good judge of character.
The most famous scandal was the Teapot Dome Scandal in which the Secretary of the Interior took bribes to allow private industry access to Naval reserve oil. This oil was supposed to be used for the Navy in emergency situations. Eventually, the Secretary was tried and convicted. (see link above) Another scandal involved the Secretary of the Veterans' Bureau who was discovered to be stealing from the hospitals.
Harding died while still in office in 1924, an election year. Vice President Calvin Coolidge finished Harding's term and was elected on his own in that election. Coolidge was one of our most conservative Presidents. His motto was "Keep Cool with Coolidge" which meant a serious connection to business interests. He became the hero of businessmen and industrialists. To be honest, though, he was rather boring. In 1933 when Coolidge died, writer Dorothy Parker on being informed of his death responded "How can they tell [he's dead]?" Are you familiar with Dorothy Parker? She is an interesting woman. I blame her my problems in high school because she is the one who said "Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." So, I never could see the board because I was afraid to wear my glasses. But, she is a great author and very funny.
In 1928, Herbert Hoover was elected and continued the pattern of the previous two Presidents. (There is no relationship between J. Edgar Hoover and Herbert Hoover.) Hoover became the most famous of the three 1920s Presidents because he was in office when the Great Depression began so we will discuss him more when we get to that event in the next topic (1930s).
While nostalgia was good for the Republicans, it also fueled intolerance in the early 1920s. Anti-radicalism was just one facet. Anti-immigrant feelings (nativism) also grew as Americans feared they brought radical ideas to the U.S. So this led to more restrictions. In the 1920s, the Quota System became the immigration policy. The purpose of the Quota System was to maintain the ethnic balance in the U.S. The first phase allowed 3% of any ethnic group already here to immigrate each year. In 1924, that became 2%. In 1929, a limit of 150,000 for any ethnic groups was added. Interestingly, Canada and Latin America including Mexico were excluded from the Quota System and could still immigrate without these restrictions. Why would they be excluded?
In 1924, the quotas led to some of the following numbers of immigrants allowed from specific countries (considered ethnic groups). For example, Egypt had a limit of 100 immigrants to the U.S. due to the population of Egyptians already in the U.S. Over 51,000 Germans could come, though. Only 100 could come from Liberia but almost 65,000 could come from England and Ireland. Only 100 could come from Nepal, but over 9,000 could come from Sweden. All of this was based on how many were already in the U.S. This maintained the ethnic balance meaning predominantly Europeans.
These limits on immigration pleased one group. The Ku Klux Klan had been revived and celebrated these limitations on immigration. Nothing symbolizes the intolerance of the 1920s like the Klan. It had been revived in 1915 under the leadership of William Simmons who advertised the Klan as a "patriotic, Christian organization." I call it the "equal opportunity hate organization." No longer did the Klan only hate African-Americans and their supporters. They hated Jews, feminists, immigrants, African-Americans, labor unions, and anyone who opposed prohibition. Simmons had been inspired by the murder of a factory girl in Georgia. A Jewish man was convicted and received a death sentence that was commuted by the Governor to a life sentence. A lynch mob got him and he was lynch on Stone Mountain with the burning of a cross.
William Simmons got a charter for the KKK and began rebuilding the vanishing organization. His goals included controlling values and enforcing public morality as defined by him. Ads for the KKK stated "Only native born Americans who believe in the Christian religion are eligible." He also began a plan of intimidation. The Klan paraded through Hispanic town to scare them. Hispanics labeled the the "Coo Coo Klan." The Klan engaged in beatings, mutilations, kidnappings, whippings, and murders.
In 1922, however, the Klan split into two factions. Some Klan sympathizers rejected the emphasis on religion and saw the organization as a political group that should lobby for political action. The leader of this faction was Hiram Evan, a dentist from Dallas. Doesn't that make you proud? (sarcasm)
The Klan discover that opposition to them was greater than during the Reconstruction Era. People did not fear them as much. In 1923, The Dallas County Citizens League formed as the first anti-Klan organization. By 1926, there were seven such groups. Other groups spoke out against the Klan including the Boy Scouts and American Federation of Labor.
In 1925, though, the Klan self-destructed as the result of the activities and testimony of David Stephenson. In 1923 he had been appointed Grand Dragon of the Klan of Indiana. The Klan was no longer an exclusively southern organization. I refer to Stephenson as the "Date from Hell." Have you had a "Date from Hell?" Well, this should make you feel better.
Stephenson had a date with a young school teacher, Madge Oberholtzer. During the date, he kidnapped her and took her to his home where he tied her up for two days. During those two days she was tortured including the cutting of her breasts. Then Stephenson begged her to marry him. Luckily, one of Stephenson's friends happened to drop by and discover the horror and she was rescued only to commit suicide by self-poisoning. Stephenson was convicted of kidnapping and received a life sentence. To help himself, he began talking about Klan activities. He named names of people, including politicians, involved in Klan activities. Hundreds of careers were destroyed. The Klan was also decimated. In 1924, the Klan had an estimated membership of five million although you see different numbers on that. By 1930, membership estimates dropped to 10,000-40,000. But, the Klan never goes away. Why? Why do people join the Klan and other hate organizations?
Prohibition in the 1920s was another sign of intolerance. Although supporters referred to it as the "Nobel Experiment," prohibition was unsuccessful. The most divisive issue of the era, prohibition turned out to be harder to accomplish that the progressives had thought. Civil disobedience was rampant. Organized crime had a field day. Chicago underworld figure Alphonse Capone took charge of the liquor industry. Violence increased especially with the advantages of cars and more sophisticated weapons developed in World War I. Drive-by shootings were invented. Law enforcement tried to fight back killing some 1550 bootleggers. But to some Americans the bootleggers and gangsters were heroes.
Progressives also did not understand how easy it was to make liquor at home. Called bathtub gin, hooch, gut rot, and red ink, 12,000 Americans died due to poisoned homemade liquor. On the other hand, Canadians and the people of the Caribbean loved prohibition. Americans learned to enjoy Canadian Whiskey and Rum as smuggling was relatively easy especially from Canada. With less than 3,000 federal agents to oversee prohibition, it was hopeless. Local law enforcement agencies tended to do what the local people wanted since Sheriffs are elected to office. And in reality, prohibition was impossible to enforce. A commercial still cost only $500 and could produce 50-100 gallons a day. A portable still cost about six or seven dollars for one gallon a day.
As with many progressive ideas, prohibitions had unexpected results. One result was overall alcohol consumption did decrease....among men. The consumption of alcohol by women skyrocketed. Before prohibition, women rarely drank in public. Saloons did allow women customers. But with prohibition, the "speakeasies" or illegal bars appeared everywhere. Their owners reason that if women could come in, more men would come in. And the women came and public drinking by women became a regular scene. Speakeasies also invented the "cover charge" and "cocktails." Why were they called speakeasies?
While the "Noble Experiment" was a miserable failure, it was 1933 before it was repealed but the war on drugs continues until today. All the illegal booze began to loosen people up By the mid-1920s the mood changed in the U.S. especially among youth culture. It was time to have fun and youth took over for the first time in U.S. history. Like the baby boomers will do later, the 1920s youth culture dominated the fads and fashions of the day. New opportunities to shock parents appeared. Modern advertising emerged and encouraged youth culture.
College students began drinking, smoking and making out in public. Couples who engaged in public displays of affection were referred to as "Snugglepups." Raccoon coats became a fad among men and women. And, here came the "flappers." These were young women who wore short skirts above their knees when Mom's dresses went to her ankles. College women cut their hair, wore make-up, and wore rolled down stockings. It was an era when flat chests were popular among women. This was a problem for the more endowed women so they bound their breasts. Women also started shaving under their arms first and then their legs. This had a lot to do with a campaign by Gillette Razor Company that conducted a campaign to get women to shave in the U.S. As you probably know, women in other countries do not always shave. Come on ladies! Let's give up shaving! Young men wore argyle socks, sweaters, bell bottom pants, and slicked their hair back as much as they could.
It was an era of experimentation among youth. They went to nudist camps, played with Ouija Boards, practiced yoga, and promoted "free love." Some of the fads were a bit strange, though. Flagpole sitting was an example. Young men would sit on top of flagpoles as long as possible. The record was 145 days by Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly. Other fads included goldfish swallowing (while the fish was alive), phone booth stuffing, wild music called Jazz, and dances like the Black Bottom, Shimmy, and Charleston.
Youth culture even developed their own language. Here's a test. What did the following words mean in youth culture of the 1920s?
If you want to know the meaning of any of these, let me know or just Google it.
The 1920s offered other opportunities for youth culture. Fraternities and Sororities appeared on college campuses. The music was inspiring, too. Spending for recreation increased 300% in the 1920s. Cars provided youth with mobility. The airplane became the symbol of risk-taking.
Youth culture had new heroes and heroines who encouraged adventure. One hero was Charles Lindbergh who was the first to fly from the U.S. to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean (1927). It will be the 1930s, though, before passenger services became available.
Sports provided other heroes and heroines. It was a "Golden Age" in sports. Almost every sport produced great athletes still famous today. That was especially true in the favorite sport of the time, baseball. Although it was an era of segregation, both the White Leagues and so-called Negro Leagues produced amazing athletes. In the White Leagues, Babe Ruth changed baseball. His first year with the New York Yankees was 1920 and by the time his career ended he had hit 714 home runs. Before Babe Ruth, baseball was more about strategy including sliding, stealing bases, and bunting. Ruth sped up the game with his home runs and youth culture loved it.
Meanwhile the Negro Leagues produced stars also. Probably the most famous was the pitcher Satchel Paige. Please view the videos under Youtube at the top of the page. Feel free to do a Youtube or Film Analysis Worksheet.
Football was becoming more popular and this is when it became part of the college campus scene. Many stadiums were built at colleges. The National Football League was founded in 1920. And, by the end of the 1920s, it was similar to today's game. The credit for this goes to Knute Rockne of Notre Dame. As a end player and coach he changed football and is considered the greatest college coach in history by many. He popularized the forward pass and introduced the "shift", with the backfield lining up in a T formation and then quickly shifting into a box to the left or right just as the ball was snapped. Rockne was also shrewd enough to recognize that intercollegiate sports had a show-business aspect. Thus he worked hard promoting Notre Dame football so as to make it financially successful. He used his considerable charm to court favor from the media, which then consisted of newspapers, wire services and radio stations and networks, to obtain free advertising for Notre Dame football. He was very successful as an advertising pitchman, for South Bend-based Studebaker and other products. Resource and additional reading
Basketball matured during the 1920s, too. By then, it was becoming professional with the Celtics dominating. In addition, the Harlem Globetrotters made their appearance in 1927. Boxing became more popular with the development of padded gloves. Madison Square Garden opened in 1925 and the middle-class was drawn to the sport. Jack Dempsey was a dominant figure but controversial since he was accused of evading the World War I draft. Eventually, another controversy ended his career in a fight with Gene Tunney. In 1927, Dempsey knocked Tunney down but Dempsey refused to go to a neutral corner as required. All this gave Tunney several extra minutes to recover and in the 8th round, Tunney knocked Dempsey out.
Other sports produced remarkable players In ice hockey, the Bruins dominated but Bill Cook of the New York Rangers was scoring champ 1926-7. In horse racing, the famous Man O War became the first to win over $200,000 and won the Triple Crown in 1920. Man O War won 49 races and $408,000 during his career. In golf, Bobby Jones dominated winning the USGA Championship in 1923, 1926, and 1929. Swimming became a popular sport for both men and women in the 1920s, too. Johnny Weismuller held every world record from distances of up to a half mile. He won two gold medals in the 1924 Olympics and two in the 1928 Olympics. Then, in 1932 he became the first Tarzan in the movies. Gertrude Ederle held 18 world records in 1924 and became the first women to swim the English Channel in 1926 while setting a time record of 35 minutes as well.
Track and field had Charley Paddock, a 1920 gold medalist in the 100 meter at 10.8 seconds. Theresa Blanchard made ice skating more popular and was the U.S. Champion in 1920-24. Ralph Greenleaf dominated billiards as U.S. Champion 1919-24 and 1926-29. Bill Tilden inspired tennis players winning the U.S Outdoor Championship in 1920-25 and 1929.
Technology developments made sports and other entertainment more accessible to youth culture. Radio was introduced in 1920. By 1922, 576 stations were on the air. In 1925, it was a $400 million business. Just take a minute to think about how radio changed lives. People had access to diverse music, instant news, the voices of politicians, advertising, and one of the first radio programs, the soap operas. Needless to say, radio changed lives of Americans.
Film also made a technological jump with the introduction of the so-called "talkies." Before 1927, all films were silent with captions. The first "talkie" was mostly silent with the songs that viewers could here. The first one was "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson. Here's a clip from the film but warning. This is a white man black face, the popular style of the day. Even African-Americans used black face.
Do you think the 1920s was a good time to be part of the youth culture? Was it a good time to be a parent in the 1920s?
The same question could be asked about women. Was it a good time to be a woman?
In general, it was still a man's world. 1/4 of the states still had no property rights for women after marriage. 3/5 of the states did not allow women custody of children after a divorce. And, educated women were still considered defective. Many believed educated women could not reproduce. 1/2 of female college graduates never married, some by choice of course but other's were ostracized.
Signs of changed appeared in the 1920s, though. The 19th Amendment had been ratified and women could vote. Clothing became more revealing and corsets were disappearing. A few began cutting their hair, wearing make-up, smoking in public, and wearing swimsuits. But, all this was controversial.
Cartoons accused women of losing their femininity and morals. Women received the blame for social problems like divorce. The U.S. did have the highest divorce rate in the world. Why do you think that happened? Could it be that women COULD get a divorce and a job to support themselves? Could it be women in the U.S. were allowed to escape abusive or unhappy marriages? Most other countries did not give women that right or the opportunity to hae a job. So, to me, it makes sense that the U.S. had more divorces.
During the 1920s, the dominant image of women changed. Throughout U.S. history women had been stereotyped as nurturers, healers, uplifters of society, mothers, and caregivers. In the 1920s, women became sex symbols with the help of Hollywood. The first Hollywood sex symbol was Theda Bera but don't try to look her up because a porn star has stolen her name. You don't want to see that! Many other sex symbols followed and sexuality was emphasized regarding women in other area.
With the 19th Amendment, you might think that women would begin agitating for other rights. 1/4 of women were in the workforce, 40% of college graduates were women, but contraceptives were still illegal and feminists were called "man haters." (Weird. I just called that the other day...some things never change.) The 1920s was not a feminist era. The first Miss America (1921), Margaret Gorman, was more of a symbol for women than Margaret Sanger. What do you think about Miss America and similar pageants? They have changed dramatically since the 1920s. Then they were simply bathing suit contests. Poor and working-class women were the most common contestants. They tended to be a bit wild and crazy. To escape that reputation, after World War II, the Miss America contest diversified and provided college educations to appeal to middle-class women instead.
The 1920s women wanted to be sexy because that was what they told to be. Experts told women their job was to get a man. Advertisers told women to watch for bad breath and body odor. Even washing machines helped. One advertisement read "She washes most of the morning and dances half the night." Social scientists like Sigmund Freud told women not to repress sexual desires because that was unhealthy. Doctors recommended older women get the new "face-lifts." (I'm guilty as charged....hehehe) 18,000 new cosmetic companies opened between 1920 and 1927. College courses changed. Before the 1920s women studied social problems and how to solve them. In the 1920s, women majored in home economics. (When I was working on my Masters Thesis, I went through the yearbooks at UTA back in the 1930s and 40s. Women were only in home economics or secretarial science.) Women were taught that the family was in crisis and they were to blame. As one college offical explained "marriages fall apart because women are poor homemakers and uninteresting wives."
All this led to an enormous change in roles of women. Historians refer to this as the era of the "Wife-Companion." It has been said women moved from the baby's room to the bedroom. The new emphasis was on the happiness of husbands rather than children. Experts warned women that children hurt romance and marriage. One behaviorist wrote "If children come, the wife cannot share her husband's pleasures, attend theaters and concerts with him, nor can she read books...He goes on growing mentally and she falls behind and both are unhappy."
Once children came, women were told to back off. Women were accused of ruining children by "overkissing." Too much attention was nauseating. Rocking the baby made the baby dependent. Nursing on demand was dangerous. An affectionate mother crippled her children. Women were advised to put children in nursery schools so experts could correct the mistakes of mothers. And, of course, women were told to depend on the "experts" who basically told women they were incompetent as mothers.
Whether women benefited from the trends of the 1920s is another good question. The same question was similar for African-Americans. The 1920s was the era of the Harlem Renaissance. Please go to the top of the page and view the film "Harlem Renaissance." It gets you in the mood and show some of the art produced in the African-American community.
The Harlem Renaissance refers to an explosion of creativity in the African-American community including arts, business, and religion. It is really misnamed since this creativity appear in all the major cities including Dallas and Deep Ellum. This development can be seen as a result of educational achievement, development of a middle-class, new leaders and new role models. World War I can also be seen as an inspiration. It was a war for democracy and African-Americans had made many sacrifices. Also, they were given new opportunities including the training of 640 officers. They also donated $250,00 to war bonds and produced a large percentage of the food need in wartime. Even the American Federation of Labor and NAACP worked together to organize African-American into unions. Not surprising, the official beginning of the Harlem Renaissance was marked with a post-war parade celebrating their accomplishments on February 17 1919. It featured the 15th Regiment or "Hellfighters" who fought in France and returned to New York as heroes to both the French and Americans. African-Americans had also left France with a fascination for African-American music. The parade revealed the self-confidence that led to the Harlem Renaissance.
Madam C. J. Walker became the most famous businesswoman (or man) in the 1920s. She became the first African-American female millionaire in the U.S. Madam Walker made her fortune in the hair and cosmetic business. Maybe she's best known for her hair straightening products for African-American women. This was very controversial at the time. Madam Walker said the criticism came from African-American men who were jealous of her success. Why would hair straightening be controversial? Other successful African-American women included Mrs. A. E. Malone, also in cosmetics, and Lillian Harris who began as the "Pigfeet Queen" but became the real estate queen in New York.
The development of arts in the 1920s is a bit overwhelming. I would like to note that the Jewish-American community was heavily involved in promoting and funding this development especially Julius Rosenwald of Sears. I find it unfortunate when I hear some of my students make anti-semitic (anti-Jewish) statements in class. At one time the two groups were extremely close. Jewish people wanted to help because they related to discrimination all too well. There is a cool Jewish cemetery near downtown you might check our for your Project. Rather that flowers, they place rocks on gravestones because rocks are permanent.
Many poets became well-known during this time including Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jean Toomer, Marcus Garvey, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson (you must read the main poem on this page, "Black Woman." What do you think it means?), Claude McKay, and many others.
Similar developments may be seen in the film industry. In 1929 the first all African-American film, "Hallelujah," was released. I will admit this is one of my favorite movies. Here's a way to view "Hallelujah." My favorite part is the outdoor revival when Zeke and Chick go back in forth. I love Nina Mae McKinney and Daniel Haynes in these roles. At the same time, it will be 1934 before films are integrated.
Music and Dancing were one of the more famous parts of the Harlem Renaissance. The most famous dancer was Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Try out some of those steps in this 1938 film. In music, the list of famous singers and musicians is very long. There are some samples at the top of the page. Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, and Duke Ellington were just a few.
Also significant, the white community discovered African-American talent. With the radio and clubs like the Cotton Club gave them a chance to hear the music. The most popular radio show featured Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club in New York which was broadcasted nationally by CBS. Whites flocked to the Cotton club. Employees were happy with big tips and Ellington said they were treated fairly in regard to money. But, the customers were all white and the employees were all African-Americans. African-Americans were not allowed to visit as customers do to segregation. (Funny how whites didn't mind being served by African-Americans but didn't want to sit next to them.) Duke Ellington changed all this. He used his power for the good of his people. In the 1930s he threatened to quit if the Cotton Club did not desegregate. Fearful of the bottom line, the owners gave into his demands. After this, all the clubs slowly desegregated.
THE GREAT MIGRATION:
Another major trend in the African-American community during the 1920s was the Great Migration. In 1910, 3/4 of African-Americans lived on farms and 9/10 of all African-Americans still lived in the South. That changed dramatically. One and a half million African-Americans moved off the farms and into the cities, mostly in the North, during the 1920s. Approximately, one million moved to the North to take advantage of the industries. The number of African-Americans working in industry doubled in the 1920s.
The Harlem Renaissance also brought about changes in religions. I refer to them as "alternative religions" but some of my students think they were cults. What is a cult? How is a cult different from the Baptist Church?
The Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America was founded in 1924 in Philadelphia by Ida Robinson. She wanted to give women a voice in churches. She emphasized healing and lots of rules. Members could not straighten their hair, no athletics, no drinking, no smoking, no fingernail polish, no short dresses, no movies, no chewing gum, no gambling and no going to parks like Coney Island. Do I have any converts?
Well, how about the United House of Prayer for All People founded in 1925 by Charles "Daddy" Grace in New York and Philadelphia. Although he was 1/2 black and 1/2 Portuguese, he denied his blackness. His emphasis was on money and he was the focus of worship. Services lasted all day Sunday and included a lot of ecstatic dancing. To make money, they sold Daddy Grace products including soap, toothpaste, paper, coffee and a magazine. Any converts here?
Let me introduce you to another option, the "Black Hebrews" founded by F. S. Cherry. He discouraged emotional services and allowed only African-American members. He did not even allow collections to be taken during services. He said they were the real Jews of the Bible but believed in Jesus Christ. (Is that a bit of a contradiction?) He believed Jesus and God were black. He added that being white was a curse for sin. While he believed God thought drinking alcohol was fine, he called Baptist preachers "dumb dogs." He added that speaking in tongues was nonsense, political power was important, but there was no celebration of Christmas or Easter. Also he did not allow eating pork or photographs of him or members. I'm sure I have some converts here, right?
If not, how about the Moorish Science Temple of America founded in 1913 by Timothy Drew who changed his name to Noble Drew Ali. Members dressed in North African clothing and openly hated whites. He told members Christianity was the white religion and Islam the Asian religion. He believed Marcus Garvey was John the Baptist. He held quiet services on Friday, their Sabbath. He allowed no baptism or communion. In addition, they could not eat meat or eggs. They could not go to the movies, dance, shave, use cosmetics, straighten their hair, drink, or smoke. Eventually, Drew Ali was arrest for murder and died under "mysterious circumstances." Nonetheless, did I get you on that one?
I'm running out of options but there is one more and the most famous, Father Divine's Peace Mission. While founded in the 1920s, it really did not reach it's peak of fame until the 1930s in New York. Divine believed in total integration and the church was open to all. He encouraged self-help and encouraged developing businesses. He wanted members to renounce the world and outlawed marriage, sex or divorce. He also said he was God. During the 1930s, though, the Peace Missions fed people and did what they could do to help during the Great Depression. On the other hand, future cult lead Jim Jones of the Guyana Tragedy, got advice from Divine on how to set up his organization. Well, I know I converted you on that one, right?
One the other hand, others celebrated the Harlem Renaissance. They argued segregation had decreased and many whites not admired and respected them for the music and businesses. Statistics show that race relations did improved. Lynching, for example, declined dramatically. In 1919 there were 83 lynchings but in 1925 there were 18 lynchings. And, the fact is, some African-American became wealthy as a result. The supporters also pointed out that an African-American identity had developed and they were more unified while maintaining their diversity.l They also pointed out that religious trends were not exclusively among African-Americans. This was the period of Aimee Semple McPherson who had a radio show and revivals. She was adored by millions of white Americans until she disappeared mysteriously only to reappear and it was discovered she had been in Mexico with her boyfriend. Even in Dallas, this trend was seen. My Mom attended the Hughes Church (run by relatives of the Hughes Funeral Home owners). The preacher and song leader were women and it was quite charismatic in Oak Cliff.
In addition white Americans argued over religion in the famous Scopes Trial often referred to the Monkey Trial in 1925 Tennessee. This was over evolution which was illegal to teach in Tennessee. A biology teacher, John Scopes, was convicted of breaking Tennessee law.
At any rate, was the Harlem Renaissance good or bad in your opinion?