There was a lot of rapid growth experienced in the United States from the 1890s to the 1920s. This was due to the immigrants from the Southern and Eastern of Europe. The urban centers at the time became densely populated. Politicians controlled these urban centers through different political machinery. Companies that acted as monopolies thus controlling the economic direction of the nation greatly also characterized this period.
The state of affairs created the emergence of concern among Americans. This group of people believed in the need for change in the society in order to safeguard the interests of the majority. This awakening led to the emergence of reformists in various such as social work, journalism, education and even in politics. This period was called the progressive era. This term is applied to a variety of reactions to the social and economic problems which arose because of rapid industrialization and urbanization introduced to the United States during the 19th century. Progressivism started as a social movement to address needs and evolved into a greater political action and reform association. The early theorists rejected Social Darwinism. These people had a belief that the problems facing Americans such as greed, violence, class welfare and racism could be solved by offering quality education, honest government as well as an efficient workplace. Most of the progressives lived in the cities, had a belief that a good government could facilitate change. Also, they were well educated making them suitable to challenge the administration on various issues.
Some of the notable social reformers in the era of progressivism included Lilian Wald, Jane Addams, Harriet Tubman, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. They were collaborating with influential writers and journalists who assisted them to carry the message of social reform and were inclusive of Ida Tarbel, Thomas Nast and Upton Sinclair. About the political reformers, William Dubois, Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington and Eugene Debs were powerful voices in advocating for change in the American society. Altogether, they focused on revealing evils of combating the fear of immigrants, corporate greed as well as persuading the citizens of the United States to think about the meaning of democracy. At a national level, progressivism was able to gain popularity in America in 1901 when Theodore Roosevelt was elected as the president.
This social change did not start in the 20th but in the late 19th century when millions of Americans moved to the urban centers or the West. Also, thousands of African-Americans migrated to the cities on the northern side of the United States. As a nation of immigrants, the country experienced unexpected immigration in this era. The foreign newcomers flooded into the rural communities and cities. They struggled to survive and adapt in America while maintaining their languages, cultures, and beliefs. Significant advances in industrialization and technology transformed the lifestyles of the natives. There was mass manufacturing that made availability of goods and services easy. Also running water and electric lighting became common in the urban areas.
For immigrants to support their families and themselves, they worked for long hours in unsafe environments to meet the ravenous appetite for cheap and mass-produced goods. For instance, between 1800 and 1900, there was an increase in number of women under employment to 8.6 from 2.6 million. By 1880, 4% of the clerical workers in the United States were women. This number increased to 50%, however, they could not be placed in the management positions. In the poor, children and women had to work but those coming from middle class families stayed at home. A quasi-slavery state started emerging where parents having children had to work. However, child labor was not addressed until the progressive era. According to Walter Lippman, a young journalist, he stated that they should not agree to social life as it trickled down to them. President Woodrow Wilson said:
Their number is not great as compared with the whole number of those sturdy hosts by which our nation has been enriched in recent generations out of virile foreign stock. But it is great enough to have brought deep disgrace upon us and to have made it necessary that we should promptly make use of processes of law by which we may be purged of their corrupt distempers.
One of the most notable events before the progressive era was the movement of African Americans to the industrial North from the rural South. The Great Migration was part of the economic shift in the United States under which the country was transformed to an urban from a rural nation. The changing economic situations pushed the African Americans into the cities from their countryside. When the macro approach is used to examine this phenomenon, the decisions made by millions of people have to be considered.
When focusing on the economic aspects of migration, most of the African-Americans moved because they were frustrated by the stagnant situations in the South. They left their families, friends and jobs behind in what was similar to the Gold Rush fever. According to the book Negro Migration During the War by Scott, Drivers and teamsters left their wagons standing in the street. Workers, returning home, scrambled aboard the trains for the North without notifying their employers or their families. In the 1920s, the population of African-Americans grew to 152467 from 91,707 in 1910 in New York. This trend was the same in other cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Southerners passed their blames to labor agents that exploited this group by paying them low wages. The desire of the blacks to move was facilitated by the declining standards of living in the South. Also, they had hopes of becoming property owners which would make them more independent. The economic boom during the First World War was consistent with the catastrophic damage in the Southern areas. Boll Weevils from Mexico invaded south resulting to a destruction of cotton crops. Also, the blacks suffered losses as the prices of their crops declined because they were held accountable to their landlords share and their little portion of the crops.
The plight of the African-Americans was ignored repeatedly. The African-Americans faced consistent racial discrimination in places as well as exclusion in the political affairs. There was scarce access to services such as education, housing and healthcare. These injustices led to the rising of reform movement among the African-Americans to create awareness and fight for equality.
Newly arriving African-Americans were said to be the working poor because they sought employment at the dominating companies in Pennsylvania, Baldwin locomotives, Cramps Shipyard, Reading railroads as well as Midvale Steel. White people from Philadelphia took African-Americans as competitors for decent housing and jobs. Their consternation regarding the blacks in neighborhoods and workplace resulted to racial conflicts, which reflected the events in the entire United States. Pennsylvania, Chester and Philadelphia had riots in 1918, which resulted to the death of approximately twenty African Americans. In 1911, there was evidence of striking steel workers led by Zachariah Walker. Philadelphia was very hostile that most of the new residents from the African American community wished to return to the South. Regardless of their challenges, the black population in Philadelphia grew to 220000. Most of them enjoyed a period of prosperity such that critics accused the whites of shirking their roles to the working class and the poor. Regardless of the discrimination at the work places, Philadelphia was able to attract thousands of immigrants from the African-American community during the war. Their numbers rose for many years afterwards.
Also, the wartime necessity introduced new social and political avenues for the group. Through their participation in war, women activists made a compelling as well as successful progress for the voting rights. In fact, it would have been difficult for African-Americans to protect their democracy outside the boundaries of America without extending it to the population at home.
The Selective service Act of 1917 was passed by the House of Congress and required all the able-bodied men between 21 and 31 years to register for military tasks. On 5th July 1917, approximately 700000 blacks were enrolled for the duty and by the end of 1920 close to 2.3 million was enrolled. In less than three years, approximately four million draftees were admitted to the U.S military and of this group 367000 were from the African American community. However, they were restricted from the Army Air and Marine Corps, but in the Navy, they were assigned physical tasks. They had to struggle to form a black officer-training program. Following the effects of immigration, an Act was established in 1924 to reduce the number of people moving into the cities.
Emigration from the southern region was intensive with the emergence of several developments. In their original land, the depressed market of cotton and natural disasters reduced the independent black landowners to tenant farming; this trapped them in cycles of indebtedness. Also, the shortage in labor offered them an opportunity in automotive, shipbuilding and steel industries. In an interview with Daily Tribune, George White, a representative from the south said, I cannot live in North Carolina and be a man and be treated as a man. The massive migration also generated a black expression in art, specifically, in music and art. This period was referred as Harlem Renaissance. A conscious group was created and included writer Zora Neale Hurston, intellectual W. E. B. DuBois, and poet Langston Hughes. A new culture emerged and was promoted by leaders such as Marcus Garvey.
Congress, U.S. "The Selective Service Act", 1917.
House of Congress, U.S. "Anti-Immigration Act", 1924.
Rodgers, Daniel. "The Progressive Era To The New Era, 1900-1929 | The Gilder Lehrman Institute Of American History". Gilderlehrman.Org. Accessed December 4, 2016. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/essays/progressive-era-new-era-1900-1929.
Scott, Emmett J. Negro Migration During The War. 1st ed. New York: Arno Press, 1969.
Wilson, Woodrow. "Anti-Immigration". Today In Civil Liberties History. Last modified 1915. Accessed December 4, 2016. http://todayinclh.com/?event=president-woodrow-wilson-gives-inflammatory-anti-immigration-speech.
Wolfinger, James. "African American Migration | Encyclopedia Of Greater Philadelphia". Philadelphiaencyclopedia.Org. Last modified 2015. Accessed December 4, 2016. http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/african-american-migration/.
"World War I And The Great Migration | US House Of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". History.House.Gov. Last modified 2016. Accessed December 4, 2016. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
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