Roaring Twenties – An Explosive Decade Of An Alteration Of America
The start of the Roaring Twenties began as World War I had come to an end, as many soldiers returned home. Reforms were made that replaced corrupt political leaders to show progress. Films were produced to demonstrate to the public the events of the war and its outcome, while it was a way of encouraging participation in the war effort. Theaters became impacted, but it wouldn’t be long, until technology would advance and become somewhat of a world power. On the other hand, tensions arose, while the number of immigrants and different ethnicities within societies increased. People began idealizing their own “superior” society, while targeting others from different backgrounds. The idea of white supremacy arose through violence, as the organization of the Knights of the White Camellia began. This organization led to Congress to promote the passing of the Force Act, which led to the Ku Klux Act in 1871 being established. African Americans were allowed to fight in World War I, but were still treated differently inside and outside of the war. During the Civil War, they were told to tear off the corner of their cards for registration of the drafts to go into war so they would be identified and segregated. The Roaring Twenties was an explosive decade of an alteration of America’s society and political system, which led to certain groups being targeted by terrorist organizations and the death of many innocent citizens. Throughout the decade, the economy flourished under the new technological advancements, as it marked a period of new structures being built through the promotion of education, leading for more job opportunities.
The Ku Klux Klan first originated during the Reconstruction Era, but emerged and became popular during the Roaring Twenties. The terrorist organization sought a vision to reestablish white supremacy throughout the nation, using violence and targeting specific religious and background groups. Crosses were burned, customers were worn, and clubs were formed to promote it. Kentucklan D.W. Griffith created one of the most popular films during the 1920s, which was called “Birth of a Nation.” Inspiring the reformation of the terrorist organization, many were moved by the film, as it was the first motion picture that was screened inside the White House. People became more thrilled, as they too sought to join the organization and bring the ideology of white supremacy back. Similarly, the Volstead Act imposed Prohibition. This act provided the Klan the new creation of a goal, which was its anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and white Protestant nationalist purpose. The Act aimed to target groups that were seen as corrupt, or more so those who were poor, immigrants, or African Americans (Levitt 133). The Klan saw this as an opportunity to expand their base, while promoting their beliefs of violence through joining in with other movements. The organization had reached to around 3 to 4 million members, as they were allowed to do anything within society, such as hold rallies, sponsoring baseball teams, or beauty contests. In the year of 1928, in Washington D.C., a march was held to gather its members and further spread their cause. According to the book, “Freakonomics,” Steven D. states, “A crack gang works pretty much like the standard capitalist enterprise: you have to be near the top of the pyramid to make a big wage.” The Klan thrived by having a system of reaching the top, meaning members joined based on the idea of corruption, which filled society. They were paid to sell costumes or sign up new initiates. Promoters were called “klegals” who “kluxed” the money towards its leaders. “Its leaders bribed politicians, stole from its members dues, and lied to its members.” Therefore, the Klan not only promoted violence, but spread it, as they corrupted the political system of the nation and social life.
Likewise, the growth of the KKK promoted race riots, as violence first erupted during the Chicago race riot of 1919, which was ethnic white Americans against black Americans. People began to segregate themselves by sorting different backgrounds into different groups, as it was whites attending a different school than those that blacks attended. In 1936, Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett were the first two African American women to participate in the Olympics. They were given an opportunity to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team. However, they suffered cruel treatment from other team members, who were non-colored. Right before the race was about to begin, Stokes and Pickett were threatened by a white American, while being replaced by white runners. Black women were still discriminated, being replaced by white women in events such as these, while men of different colors also faced the same discrimination. Similarly, blacks were also treated differently within the judicial system. The Sweet Case was the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who was a black physician. His family bought a house in Detroit, which was in a white neighborhood. Sweet was charged without evidence for killing a man. However, in this event, the man who was killed was part of a mob who threatened to burn down Sweet’s house, while throwing rocks at the home. In this case, Sweet was defending his home and his family, as there was no evidence that was directed at Sweet, as there were other members in the house. In the first trial, the jury was a white man, which promoted the idea that Sweet violated the terms of living in a “white” neighborhood and shots were fired without reasons. This was significant because when people demanded justice, blacks were looked down upon, as whites always had the upper hand. On July 27, an innocent seventeen old African American boy, Eugene Williams drowned from the force will of white men. He was swimming with some of his friends in Lake Michigan, until he came across the barrier between where whites and blacks would swim. Several white men threw rocks and other objects at Williams, causing for him to drown (Oklahoma Commission 44). Police officers arrived at the scene, but yet still, they refused to arrest white men or white witnesses. Violence broke out from these events, as the tensions between colored and non-colored people broke. Sides were being taken, along with judicial systems and leaders being biased.
At the same time, the development of urban areas promoted the growth of cities and industrialization, marking the decade of growth in the economy, as it recovered from the wars that just occurred. Technologies, such as televisions, which were forms of entertainment or automobiles were invented. People became wealthier, as resources were created that made everyday life easier. Science enabled engineers to further their study, as they researched on everything from rubber plants to electronics. Science helped engineers to create technologies, such as radios that were useful to people. For instance, the adoption of skyscrapers allowed for cities to stretch skyward, as it helped to ease crowded areas and allowed for the population to increase, along with the development of new buildings and jobs (Williams 114). Mass transportation also eased crowded populations by making it easier for people to travel. The Ford Motor Company’s classic Model T automobile was an an affordable car that almost anyone could afford and own. Technology promoted the idea of education, as people began to realize that education was a must if one wanted to have a job that was well-paid. The invention of the radio allowed for people from anywhere to hear what was going on in society. It informed them on the current events, along with being able to join in on sports news, concerts, sermons, and news. The first radio station that was invented was the KDKA Station (Williams 89). A radio costed from anywhere from four hundred dollars to nine hundred, which helped boost the economy from the influx of money, as almost every household owned a radio. The invention of movies allowed a new form of entertainment, as it was the third most leading item in the industry. The production of the technicolor allowed for movies to become more entertaining, as things would soon transfer to color (Lapsansky-Werner 294). Furthermore, technology helped to cure many diseases. It helped advance medicine. America’s health increased, while the discovery of vitamins came around during this decade. Many deaths used to be caused by Diphtheria. However, technology gave the resources towards medicine to find a cure. The introduction of immunization helped to reduce the deaths, as the economy, along with the population increased and prospered.
The Roaring Twenties was a time period of where many reforms were attempted, but only some played a significant role in society that allowed it to flourish. Tensions increased between non-colored and colored people, as people segregate themselves into their group racial groups. Targeting specific groups, terrorist organizations were created that further promoted the idea of white supremacy. The KKK contributed their organization towards terrorizing immigrants or those who were colored. Movies were either a form of entertainment or persuasion. They played an important role in influencing societies ideas and reforms. Some reforms that promoted the growth of the nation was technology. Transitioning from walking by foot to having luxurious vehicles, automobiles promoted the growth of cities, as crowded areas became eased. Transportation allowed faster traveling and an easier lifestyle. Therefore, the Roaring Twenties was an explosive decade of an alteration of America’s society and political system, which led to certain groups being targeted by terrorist organizations and the death of many innocent citizens. Throughout the decade, the economy flourished under the new technological advancements, as it marked a period of new structures being built through the promotion of education, leading for more job opportunities.
- Lapsansky-Werner, Emma, et al. United States History: The Twentieth Century. New York: Pearson Education, 2019.
- Bingham, Jane. The Great Depression: the Jazz Age, Prohibition, and Economic Decline, 1921-1937. Chelsea House, 2011.
- Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Penguin, 2015.
- 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Oklahoma Historical Society, 2001.
- Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Routledge, 2015.
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