Intolerance in the 1920s


After World War I, many thought that American civilization was "declining." People and events were bringing change to the United States. Immigrants brought new cultures, religions, and languages while the Bolshevik Revolution brought suspicion to socialists, radicals, and labor unions. Some Americans were clinging to past values as new ones came.

To keep the "true" American values, intolerance was displayed by restrictive legislation and violence. Immigrants from Northern and Western Europe became targets of those acts. Socialists and Atheists were also victims. Americans wanted them to conform with the rest.

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Restricting Immigration

As the immigrant population rose, many began to worry. Critics of American society complained that undesirable races were flooding the United States. Protestants worried as more and more Catholics and Jews came. Although, business leaders liked immigration for the fact that they could pay immigrants less wages compared to Americans.

To decrease the immigrant population, a literacy test was imposed in 1917, but approximately 1.25 million immigrants entered the United States in the first two years of the 1920s. Because of this, the government put a cap on the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. Then in 1924, the National Origins Act based immigrant admission on nationality. Immigrants from northern and western Europe had a higher quota compared to others while Asian immigrants were banned.

Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan

By 1915, the Ku Klux Klan was almost dead with about 5,000 members, but on Thanksgiving, members renewed their pledges to affirm white supremacy. To promote the KKK, members started to sell merchandise such as robes and hoods. Membership dues were also raised. By the mid-1920s, KKK membership grew to 5 million and had a strong women's auxiliary to support it. The Ku Klux Klan became powerful throughout the South and the MIdwest. The KKK did not only target African Americans, but also Catholics, Jews, and Southern European immigrants. Toward the end of the decade, corruption in national leadership and sex scandals discredited the organization and membership took a dramatic drop.
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Support of African Americans

Marcus Garvey wanted equality for African Americans, but thought it could not be achieved in the United States. He then started the United Negro Improvement Association. Garvey founded the Black Star Steam-line to transport African Americans back to Africa where they could build a life for themselves. He had approximately 80,000 followers but was then deported to Jamaica for mail fraud.