Whether tolerance of others' views was a virtue or weakness became an enflaming issue in the 1920s, as social divisions erupted in the postwar years torn by widespread anxiety and distrust. "Tolerance is laziness dressed in Sunday clothes," wrote one woman responding to a magazine inquiry. "It takes possession of a person and he goes through life excusing all the wrongs he is too indolent to correct."1 Others feared the excess of partisan zeal and its threat of unraveling the shared ideals that bind a nation. "Real Americanism is not holding this or that political opinion," stressed one observer. "It is a certain spirit of fair play, and a respect for individual liberty as well as for law. Unfortunately, we are now playing the game of who will be able to hit hardest to make his personal prejudice prevail."2 In this theme we examine the divisiveness—the race to make one's "personal prejudice prevail"—that swelled in America of the Twenties.
- What factors precipitated and fueled the social divisions of the 1920s?
- How did each division reflect postwar adjustments and the "modern age"?
- What issues overlapped the multiple social divisions of the period?
- How had each issue evolved by 1930 as the nation entered the Great Depression?
Sections in DIVISIONS
Each section presents primary resources, introductory notes, classroom discussion questions, and supplemental links.
- Ku Klux Klan
- - Collected commentary on the Ku Klux Klan, 1919-1929
- - Political cartoons on the Ku Klux Klan, 1921-1928 (16); cartoon analysis chart
- - Newsreel (silent): Klan parade in Washington, DC, August 1925
- - Sound recording: Will Rogers, "Timely Topics," humor monologue, 1923 (with transcript)
- Black & White
- - Collected commentary on race in America, 1919-1930
- - Political cartoons on race, 1919-1928 (18); cartoon analysis chart
- - Aaron Douglas, Charleston, gouache painting, ca. 1928
- - W. E. B. Du Bois on the 1917 East St. Louis race riot, essay, 1917
- - Clarence Darrow on the Sweet murder trials, Detroit, 1925-1926
- - Silent film drama: Oscar Micheaux, Within Our Gates, 1920
- - Miscegenation scene in Show Boat, Broadway musical by Kern & Hammerstein, 1927
- City & Town
- - Collected commentary
- - Sinclair Lewis
- - Main Street, novel, 1920: Carol Kennicott in Washington, DC
- - Babbitt, novel, 1922: Babbitt's booster speech on the town of Zenith
- - Robert Frost, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things," poem, 1920
- Wets & Drys
- - "Five Years of Prohibition and Its Results," The North American Review, summer & fall, 1925, excerpts
- - Political cartoons, 1921-1930 (8); cartoon analysis chart
- - Edward Hopper, The Bootleggers, oil on canvas, 1925
- - Newsreels (sound)
- - "The Dodgers! A Prohibition Sidelight from Buffalo," 1931
- - "Someone Is Going Short of Christmas Spirits!" 1932
- Religion & Science
- - Collected commentary on the religion-science debate, 1922-1930
- - Silent animated cartoon: Felix the Cat, Felix Doubles for Darwin, 1924
- Labor & Capital
- - Collected commentary, 1919-1929
- - Political cartoons, 1919-1926 (14); cartoon analysis chart
- Native & Foreign
- - Collected commentary
- - Political cartoons, 1919-1924 (5); cartoon analysis chart
- "Reds" & "Americans"
- - Collected commentary on the Red Scare, 1918-1931
- - Political cartoons on the Red Scare, 1919-1926 (8); cartoon analysis chart
- - Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, novel, 1922: Good Citizens' League
- - Political addresses on "Americanism," 1920 (recordings, with transcripts)
- - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democratic Party
- - Leonard Wood, Republican Party
- - Silent animated films
- - Uncle Sam and the Bolsheviki-IWW Rat, Ford Motor Co., 1919
- - Felix the Cat, All Puzzled, 1925
1 Editors of the Forum, "What is Tolerance?" The Forum, May 1927; statement of Mrs. H. J. Bryson, Raleigh, North Carolina, excerpt.
2 Katharine Fullerton Gerould, "The Land of the Free," Harper's Magazine, January 1923.
Image: Thousands gather in Madison Square Garden, New York City, to hear radio broadcast of President Harding's speech dedicating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery, Washington, DC, November 11, 1921, photograph by Underwood & Underwood, November 11, 1921 (detail). Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.8827. Reproduced by permission.