FYW - Tumultuous Twenties
March 22, 2014
The Fight for Equality
The 1920s were a time of struggle, pride, fear, and creativity for African Americans. Following WWI, blacks fought for the conditions and rights that they were given while fighting in Europe. They fought through countless riots and murders to push for equality. They migrated across the country to escape the horrid conditions of the South. They created an entirely new cultural movement that spread like wild fire. African Americans of the 1920s created a momentous movement of political and cultural dominance that would eventually lead to their freedom. The Post World War I era was a difficult, yet prideful time for African Americans. While African Americans were fighting abroad, they were treated as equals to whites in Europe. Due to American generals refusing to command blacks, African Americans fought side by side with black and white French soldiers under French command. In addition, there were a few all black regiments, the most well known being the 369th Colored Infantry (p.8). Upon returning home in November of 1918, African Americans faced “contradictory feelings of hope and frustration” (p. 7). They expected to be praised and rewarded for their sacrifices made during the war; however, they were met with nearly the opposite. This new mood among the African Americans became known as the “New Negro.” Coined by black journalists, this term described the new attitude of post-war blacks and their will to fight against the white oppression. Unfortunately, the American public treated them the same as before the war. African American soldiers were in shock from the striking contrast of black social conditions between America and Europe. While the whites were praised for their sacrifices, the blacks were not. In one case, however, on February 7, 1919, a few thousand black soldiers marched through Manhattan, and were praised by both blacks and whites alike; however, most white Americans didn’t feel the same as those in New York. With blacks having a strong hope for equality, and whites having a strong fear of this equality, America was set up for some of the best and worst events of the 1920s.
The “Red Summer”, coined by James Weldon Johnson, was a summer of hate crimes, violence, and even murder. On several occasions, both blacks and whites ended up injuring and killing one another. African Americans began to assert their new hope of equality. The first instance of this new attitude occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, when sailors killed a black civilian. A large fight broke out and several people, both blacks and whites, were killed. Riots began to appear throughout America. The worst riot broke out in Chicago and lasted five days. It all began when an African American swimmer drifted into waters between segregated beaches. A white man threw a rock at him and the black man ended up drowning. White police officers did nothing to arrest the white man. As the news spread, gang related violence quickly began to spread throughout neighborhoods. As tensions grew stronger, the violent crimes became worse. Eventually, a mass riot broke out. Policemen fired upon several black men, and several thousand men became involved. In the end, 23 blacks and 15 whites were killed, and many more were injured. Unfortunately, the majority of the media downplayed these riots to try and keep everyone else under control, but The Crisis, the primary newspaper for the NAACP, published nearly every event, both good and bad. Over the summer, many other instances of violence occurred, leading to the Great Migration (p. 7-15)
The lives of African Americans significantly changed during the 1920s. A large contributor to these changes was the mass migration of African Americans to the North and West known as the Great Migration. African Americans despised the Jim Crow laws, and tried everything in their power to either...
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