Racial Discrimination in America During the 1920's

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The motto of the United States of America is "E Pluribus Unum" meaning ‘Out of one, many'. It neatly recognises that although America may be a single nation, it is also one originally made up of immigrants who arrived not only from Europe and Asia, but forcibly as slaves from Africa and of Native Americans. It's population is the most racially and culturally diverse in the world and for that reason is often referred to as a "Melting Pot".

During the 1920's, racial tensions in American society reached boiling point. New non-protestant immigrants like Jews and Catholics had been arrived in their masses from south-east Europe since early on in the century. Together with Orientals, Mexicans and the Black population these minorities suffered the most at the hands of those concerned with preserving the long established White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (W.A.S.P.) values that were an integral part of American life. Prejudice and racism reared its ugly head in many areas of society, with people showing a tolerance for racist views in the media, literature and towards organisations like the Ku Klux Klan. Also the language, living and working conditions and Government legislation that ethnic minorities were subjected to is further evidence that the twenties was an openly discriminatory decade. It was also during this period of grave hostility directed at ethnic groups that America's ‘open door' attitude of "Give me your tired, your poor" towards immigration, officially became a part of history.

In the 1920's Anti-Immigration Organisations that had been founded in the latter parts of the first decade of the twentieth century began to receive much larger and an increasingly influential following. The Immigration Restriction League was one such group, it claimed to have ‘scientific' evidence that the new immigrants from Southeast Europe were racially inferior and therefor posed to threaten the supremacy of the USA. They believed strongly in WASP values and certainly did not wish to see them become polluted by other religions from minorities like Catholics and Jews. This Social-Darwinist belief was not just popular with the masses, but it's appeal spread to people of considerable eminence. For example the principals of important American universities like Harvard, Stanford and Chicago were numbered among the Leagues supporters. Another similar organisation looking to conserve the American way if life was the American Protective Association. A leading member, William J.H. Tranyor spoke for their cause when arguing against giving the vote to "every ignorant Ago and Pole, Hun and Slav" and all other "criminal riffraff of Europe" that arrive on Americas shores. During the 1920's the growth and continually support of anti-immigration fraternities from the American people serves to highlight the increasing resentment and concern over foreign influences.The influential author Madison Grant, whose book "The Passing of a Great Race" became a best seller in its time, echoes such sentiments. Grant, another Social-Darwinist, called for absolute racial segregation, immigration restrictions and even forced sterilisation of "worthless race types". In his book he described ethnic minorities as "human flotsam" and that the "whole tone of American life, social, moral and political has been lowered and vulgarised by them". Madison Grant, together with authors that shared a similar perspective on ethnic groups, influenced many people in America, the fact that this type of literature was popular shows this.

The language that native-born Americans adopted to describe those of ethnic minorities can be used as an indicator of their dislike of them. To begin with nicknames for minorities were only mildly abusive, but as time went on the terms became uglier. For example the term used to describe a person of Latin background was "Spic", said to originate from the expression "No Spic Inglis". Also Italians had a number of names,...
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