African American In The 1920s Essay
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 Flowers 1 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 Flowers 2 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 change or escape them. Many blacks living in the South gained much economic success after migrating to the North. Not only did the blacks want to migrate to the North for economic and civil gains, but they also wanted to escape the worsening conditions in the South caused by the Boll Weevil plague that ruined the cotton industry (p. 23-24).
Upon arriving in the North, blacks began to build up their community. They built their own churches, which were significantly different from white churches. Their churches became a part of their lives, and became their community. The YMCA and the YWCA also began during this time period, promoting community as well. Western black immigrants came primarily from places like Jamaica, and were fairly new to the oppression of the whites in America. Because of this, they were not as afraid to start up new things. Flowers 3 On the political side of events, the NAACP was on the rise.
By 1919, the NAACP had become the leading organization for black civil rights. Led by W. E. B. Du Bois, the NAACP constantly challenged “segregation and political equality. ” (p. 57) A major success of this organization was the push for the Dyer Antilynching Bill. Even though the bill was never successfully passed, it brought lynching to the attention of the public, and eventually reduced the number of lynchings significantly (p. 60-63). While African Americans fought to make conditions better for themselves, some conditions remained poor.
Some blacks began purchasing homes in “white” neighborhoods, but were faced with violence, especially from the rising Ku Klux Klan; therefore, ending the housing segregation quickly gained importance (p. 66-68). The white schools were far superior, due to the much higher wages and funding provided. In Southern states, studies showed that white teachers were paid nearly four times as much as black teachers, and the black school sizes and facilities were vastly inferior (p. 68). A third problem was the constant fight against the judicial system.
On several occasions, blacks were wrongly accused of crimes, even when there was little to no evidence to prove anything at all. For example, two black men in Kentucky ended up in court for raping a white woman on “the flimsiest of evidence. ” Even though no one identified the men, the all white jury spent just fifteen minutes to find them guilty, and the men were sentenced to death (p. 68). Aside from the political issues, African Americans in the North began a mass movement of cultural expansion, including literature, music, and art. This Flowers 4 movement became known as the Harlem Renaissance. The precursor to this movement was the Marcus Garvey movement.
Garvey pushed for blacks to “reject the white society and build a separate life. ” (p. 77) He believed that blacks should never conform to white society. He also led the somewhat unsuccessful “Back to Africa” movement, which was an attempt to have all blacks leave the country and live in Liberia instead. Following the Marcus Garvey movement was the well-known Harlem Renaissance. Even though renaissance is in the name, this movement was more of a birth than a rebirth. It all began during the Great Migration. As thousands of African Americans migrated to the North, many ended up settling in Harlem. This three square mile area became the largest concentration of black people in the world.
Following the war, many writers celebrated this new life in the North, and praised the better conditions of the North in their writing. Many hoped that this mass outpouring of literature would “break down the walls of prejudice. ” (p. 80) The most popular of these writers was the African American poet, Langston Hughes. Today, much of his work is considered classic literature. In addition to the mass influx of African American literature, jazz music was on the rise (p. 83-86) Jazz became a symbol of African Americans and the Harlem Renaissance.
This product of music pulled concepts from “African rhythms, blues chord progressions, church spirituals, European melodies, and American marching band instrumentation. ” (p. 86) Probably the most well known musician from this era was the trumpeter, Louis Armstrong. Even though jazz originated in New Orleans, it quickly spread to the East coast and eventually to Harlem. The Flowers 5 literature produced in Harlem was by far more successful than jazz, but there was certainly no shortage of jazz in Harlem. Both the jazz and literary greats became idols to many African Americans.
They created a wave of inspiration in the black community that quickly spread throughout certain areas of America. The African American community fought through violence, held their pride, and created an entire cultural movement. Through the idea of the “New Negro” to the eventual Harlem Renaissance, African Americans became stronger and bolder in fighting against whites. Through the NAACP, African Americans gained a stronger stance in politics than ever before. Through riots, beatings, and even deaths, African Americans fought to be treated equally to whites, and paved the way for their eventual freedom and equality.
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