Week 7: Roaring Twenties
Welcome to HST 202 Week Seven! This is the seventh learning module looking at the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression in the United States.
Carnes, Chapter 25: From “Normalcy” to Economic Collapse: 1921-1933
Zinn, Chapter 15 “Self-Help in Hard Times”
…Congress, in the twenties, put an end to the dangerous, turbulent flood of immigrants (14 million between 1900 and 1920) by passing laws setting immigration quotas: the quotas favored Anglo-Saxons, kept out black and yellow people, limited severely the coming of Latins, Slavs, Jews. No African country could send more than 100 people; 100 was the limit for China, for Bulgaria, for Palestine; 34,007 could come from England or Northern Ireland, but only 3,845 from Italy; 51,227 from Germany, but only 124 from Lithuania; 28,567 from the Irish Free State, but only 2,248 from Russia.
The Ku Klux Klan was revived in the 1920s, and it spread into the North. By 1924 it had 4M million members. The NAACP seemed helpless in the face of mob violence and race hatred everywhere. The impossibility of the black persons ever being considered equal in white America was the theme of the nationalist movement led in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey. He preached black pride, racial separation, and a return to Africa, which to him held the only hope for black unity and survival. But Garvey's movement, inspiring as it was to some blacks, could not make much headway against the powerful white supremacy currents of the postwar decade.
There was some truth to the standard picture of the twenties as a time of prosperity and fun-the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. Unemployment was down, from 4,270,000 in 1921 to a little over 2 million in 1927. The general level of wages for workers rose. Some farmers made a lot of money. The 40 percent of all families who made over $2,000 a year could buy new gadgets: autos, radios, refrigerators. Millions of people were not doing badly-and they could shut out of the picture the others-the tenant farmers, black and white, the immigrant families in the big cities either without work or not making enough to get the basic necessities.
But prosperity was concentrated at the top. While from 1922 to 1929 real wages in manufacturing went up per capita 1.4 percent a year, the holders of common stocks gained 16.4 percent a year. Six million families (42 percent of the total) made less than $1,000 a year. One-tenth of 1 percent of the families at the top received as much income as 42 percent of the families at the bottom, according to a report of the Brookings Institution. Every year in the 1920s, about 25,000 workers were killed on the job and 100,000 permanently disabled. Two million people in New York City lived in tenements condemned as rattraps.
The country was full of little industrial towns like Muncie, Indiana, where, according to Robert and Helen Lynd (Middletown), the class system was revealed by the time people got up in the morning: for two-thirds of the city's families, "the father gets up in the dark in winter, eats hastily in the kitchen in the gray dawn, and is at work from an hour to two and a quarter hours before his children have to be at school."
There were enough well-off people to push the others into the background. And with the rich controlling the means of dispensing information, who would tell? Historian Merle Curti observed about the twenties:
It was, in fact, only the upper ten percent of the population that enjoyed a marked increase in real income. But the protests which such facts normally have evoked could not make themselves widely or effectively felt. This was in part the result of the grand strategy of the major political parties. In part it was the result of the fact that almost all the chief avenues to mass opinion were now controlled by large-scale publishing industries…
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Forum Discussion #7
History Channel is a pay television network that is owned by A+E Networks. The network was originally focused on history-based documentaries and historical fiction series though, during the late 2000s, History would drift into male-oriented reality television programming. In addition to this change in format, the network is also criticized by many scientists, historians, and skeptics for broadcasting pseudo-documentaries and unsubstantiated, sensational investigative programming.
Watch this short clip respond to the following:
Prohibition of alcohol is considered widely a failure in American history. Do you agree? How effective is prohibition in a free society? Cite examples.