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Social Tensions in America 1919 – 1941 Essay

Account for social tensions in US society from 1919 – 1941. Social tensions among US society from 1919-1941 came about due to immigration restrictions, racial conflict, and anti-communism. In the early 1920s Americans living in the rural areas, approximately 50% of the total population) were persistent in maintaining a capitalist democracy based on Anglo-Saxon culture. White Anglo-Saxon Americans became alarmed at the increasing level of foreign immigrants arriving by the 20th century. These White Anglos saw themselves as ‘Real Americans’. As the United States slowly adjusted from being predominately rural to a more urban society, also helped create tension through US society in 1919 – 1941.

Overall, US society from 1919 – 1941 had a significant amount of tension in different areas of society due to religious, racial, political and social issues of the time creating tension within US society. Tensions arose in US society following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1919. The high level of anti-communism rose tension in US society as society blamed the unions and workers for the spread of communism. Many Americans also feared that radical foreigners in the United States would attempt to overthrow capitalism and democracy. This in turn led to anti-unionism. Unions decreased in influence as American workers under the influence of conservatism believed that unionism was associated with communism. In 1919 communists made striking gains in Germany, Hungary and Russian frontiers.

This raised awareness in America and began the political movement of the ‘Red Scare’. Most Americans did not differentiate among radicalisms. They grew more frightened every day and they saw ‘red’ in everything they feared or disliked. The Red Scare and strikes of 1919 left the uneasy impression that unions and subversion were linked creating tension within society between anti-unionists against the unionists and workers. In the summer of 1919, 4 million, which was 20% of the workers, were on strike.

One out of every five workers was on strike during the summer of 1919. Many of these strikes were put down in a violent fashion. Most of those arrested during the strikes turned out to be American citizens, but the raids were popular with many Americans. These strikes combined with the ‘Red Scare’ led to anti-communists and anti-unionists blaming workers for the spread of communism.

Overall anti-communism, which led to the anti-unionism created tension within society during 1919 – 1941. Another one of the main causes of tension in US society was immigration restriction. Politically, the 1920s was a decade of immigration restriction. These restrictions came about as a result of increasing immigrants after World War I. According to Snowman, “in the years preceding the war, something like one million foreigners a year arrived in the US.” Immigration had increased from 110 000 in 1919 to 805 000 in 1921. The historian Snowman also describes that with the large amount of migrants moving to American that the “foreign immigrants were ascribed to many of the vibes of the defeated enemies”.

This quote shows how the tensions caused by World War I spilled over into US society and also explains why immigration restriction acts were put in place. President Calvin Coolidge also expressed his fear of immigrants when he said that “America must be kept American”. This xenophobia is seen in many of the immigration restriction acts that were implemented as a reaction to the growing influence of immigrants their ‘differences’. So in 1921 the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 was introduced which capped immigration at no more than 357 000 immigrants per year. This act of immigration restriction was furthered with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 which cut down immigration as low as 164 000 people per year.

These immigration restriction laws sent a clear message to Americans and those who wanted to be American that Anglo-Saxon culture was to remain the dominate culture of the United States. These racist immigration laws were the background to America’s growing social tensions, anti-communism feelings, and xenophobic response that spawned the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1290s. Racial conflict brought on my immigration was another major reason for social tension in American society from 1919 – 1941. The causes of these early race riots were varied. The Chicago riot started when an African American bather floated into the white area of an unofficial segregated beach. He was then pelted with stones and killed by an angry mob of white bathers. The blame of these race riots goes down to American society’s inability to cope with the rapid social and economic change that occurred at the end of World War I.

The war had also encouraged African Americans to look for new opportunities in the North to replace the immigrant workers who could not travel to the United States during the war. This migration of southern African Americans from the 1910s to the 1940s became known as the ‘Great Migration’. Chicago’s African American population grew from 44 000 in 1910 to 234 000 in 1930. Despite the effects of the Great Migration, 80 per cent of African Americans still lived in the South in 1930. The 1920s also saw the development of the ‘New Negro’.

This was an urban, educated, literate and outspoken African American. Many whites felt threatened by the political nature of the ‘New Negro’. Some whites particularly those who belonged to or were influenced by the Ku Klux Klan, resorted to violence in response to their fear of growing African American confidence, prosperity, education and pride. So by 1925 the KKK had recruited up to 4.5 million white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) members.

The KKK worked to keep the Negro politically and social suppressed. The historian Shannon supports this idea of repressing the Negro by stating that “The Klan first became strong in the South, where it worked to keep the Negro ‘in his place’.” The Ku Klux Klan are a strong example of the racial tension in US society. The rise of both of these groups created great tension in US society in the period 1919 – 1941. The period of 1919 – 1941 saw a rapid change of national identity fuelled by tensions among the United States society. The issues of immigration restrictions, racial conflict, and anti-communism led to xenophobic feelings within American society. These feelings often led to violent outbreaks in US society. These issues therefore are the reasons for growing tensions in US society during the period 1919 – 1941.

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