Roaring twenties: prohibition, suffrage and the Ku Klux Klan

THE ROARING TWENTIES

The ‘United States of America‘ entered the roaring twenties with full on enthusiasm as to what the new world would give them, with people moving to key cities, like Chicago and New York, jazz music, fashion, Art Deco, and technology blossomed. People began buying cars as the credit options made it more affordable for the average person. The overall wealth of the nation doubled, more people owned appliances and telephones, with sport and cinema becoming big businesses.

The American economy and industrial sectors were booming, and America was divided by wealth. Many people were living lavish lifestyles, whilst others were living in dire poverty, and even though it was getting close to 50 years since slavery was abolished, many African Americans in the Deep South suffered horrendous racial prejudice and lived barely surviving as they didn’t have equal rights to whites. Although the birth of jazz and the rise of blues brought many African Americans into the cities to perform and started the Harlem Renaissance, in return millions of American whites joined the Ku Klux Klan as they believed they were combating the debauchery of society with Christian values.

THE PROHIBITION

Imagine a time when alcohol was illegal to go into production, transportation, and importation for 13 years between 1920 and 1933, but consuming it wasn’t a crime. As you’d expect, religion was behind it, and Lutheranism had attempted several times since the 19th century to remove alcohol from society as it went against their Christian beliefs, and America’s involvement in World War I created a national pride and opposition to the German beer producers, and it paved the way to diminish the influence in the alcohol trade, and the 18th amendment was voted in by a majority. On January 16th, 1920, the Volstead Act went into force and closed every establishment that sold liquor in America. The main reason was alcohol being the primary factor for most social disruption, marriage breakups and violence in America, and this gave women a voice that was heard.

“After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.” – Amendment XVIII

Bootleggers took advantage of the prohibition and made illegal gin and moonshine, but often it was created using industrial strength alcohol which led to many deaths to those desperate enough to drink it. Little did the Christians who campaigned against the immorality of selling alcohol know that the prohibition would backfire and give rise to mobsters, and none were as notorious as Al Capone, who ruled the Chicago underworld and made a fortune from casinos, speakeasies (secret bars) and racketeering.

The issue that the American government faced during the prohibition was enforcing it. Underground bars appeared everywhere, and police officers, lawyers and judges could be found drinking there. The government only had around 1500 agents to cover all of the states so a lot of the drinking continued unnoticed, and certain cities completely disregarded it and became anti-prohibition. The President at the time of 1933, Franklin Roosevelt, was inaugurated at a time of the Great Depression and low morale from American citizens and he signed the 21st amendment.

“The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed. … The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.” – Amendment XXI

WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE

1840 was the time when women began the fight to change the law so that they were eligible to vote, and in 1890 the separate suffrage organisations finally joined forces as one and became the ‘National American Woman Suffrage Association‘. The movement tirelessly campaigned for the constitution to pass an amendment for the right for women to vote, and the fight for women’s suffrage came to an end by the passing of the 19th amendment in August 18, 1920. It was 80 years in the making.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” – Amendment XIX

America was in a strange place. Racism was very strong, yet in 1870 the 15th Amendment was passed allowing African American men the right to vote, yet no woman was able until 50 years later as the American man saw the woman as a homemaker.

‪The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” – Amendment XV‬

KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN

In the early 1920s America grew suspicious of foreigners, and their paranoia over communism began, and throughout the land, and predominantly rural America the ‘Knights of the Ku Klux Klan‘ grew in a second wave after being dormant for almost 50 years and awoken by ‘Rev. William J. Simmons‘ who recruited over 5,000,000 members and millions more supporters, due to their racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic views. America was becoming dangerous for anyone who wasn’t a white supremacist. Their influence over state governments and politics was huge, and they took control of many cities’ police departments and court houses.

Considering the Klan was claiming to be enforcing Christian values, they actively encouraged their members that bigotry, prejudice, harassment, condemnation and violence was not only patriotic but it’s God’s will. The white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were becoming anxious about the state of America. Foreigners from Europe were invading their lands, the blacks were spreading, women were gaining rights and they saw this as America being undone, and they resented the modernism that their country was going through. They were strongly opposed to contraception, abortion and evolution being taught in schools, and this led to much vigilante violence. As the Klan grew they helped charity organisations and supported schools, and donated much money to the churches to support the poor Protestants, but at the same time their influence went to the top as Klan members became mayors, governors and senators. Some members of the Klan were not interested in violence as they just wished moral values to return, but others joined so that they could beat and lynch blacks, Catholics, foreigners, adulterers and promiscuous women.

Despite the Klan’s popularity in the mid twenties, the Presidents saw them as a sadistic organisation who was a danger to the public, and many higher ranking public officials began to turn their backs on Klan members and activities. Many people began to publicly oppose them as the death toll, raping, and violence was contradicting their alleged moral outlook. The Klan slowly diminished as social outlook towards minorities became more tolerant, but it begs the question of how and why did America accept the Ku Klux Klan as social and cultural figureheads when they promoted so much hatred?

“H e and other Klan leaders would look to Christianity to find support for racism. Even liberal Protestant churches supported white supremacy. That seemed the natural order of things. Just as people used Biblical texts to support slavery.” – Kelly J. Baker

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