Social Tension in a Decade of Prosperity
The prosperity and leisure of the 1920s hid serious social
tensions. In the political realm, such tensions exposed themselves
in isolationism and anti-immigration policies. Elsewhere in American
society, social tensions centered on questions of race, religion,
The Garvey Movement and African Americans
Many blacks, unhappy with the continued slow pace of social
advancement, in the 1920s turned to Marcus Garvey and
the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which Garvey
had moved from Jamaica to the U.S. in 1916. Garvey glorified black
culture and founded a chain of UNIA businesses to promote black
economic cooperation. Garvey urged American blacks to return to
Africa and establish an independent nation. The Garvey movement
attracted many followers, with the UNIA claiming 80,000 members, but
was sharply criticized by the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for being too radical.
In 1923, Marcus Garvey was found guilty of fraud, and in 1927 he
was deported to Jamaica. The UNIA could not survive without his
leadership, but it left an important legacy as a prominent African
American mass movement.
The NAACP was a more conservative force for social reform.
Led by W.E.B. Du Bois, the NAACP called for integration
and equal treatment for blacks. In part because of the migration
of blacks northward during World War I, membership in the NAACP
grew markedly during the early 1920s. Still, lynchings continued
in the South, and racist Americans gained influence through organizations
such as the Ku Klux Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan
Nativism and intolerance during the 1920s was seen most
prominently in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
in 1915. The Klan organized a wildly successful membership drive in
1920, with estimates of new recruits as high as five million. Instead
of just targeting blacks for attack, as the earlier Klan had done,
the new Klan expanded its target to include all non-Protestants.
By calling for “100 percent Americanism,” the Klan capitalized on middle-class
Protestant dismay at changing social and economic conditions in
America. The Klan took root throughout the South, where it mostly
targeted blacks, and in parts of the West and Midwest, where Catholics
and Jews bore the brunt of Klan intimidation and murder. In some
states, the Klan even exerted dominant political, as well as social,
force. The Klan collapsed in 1925 after the widespread corruption
of Klan leadership was exposed. Membership faded quickly, but the
Klan would return after World War II as a significant force.
The Scopes Monkey Trial
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
science challenged the infallibility of religious doctrine. Liberal
Protestants accepted the majority of scientific findings and sought
to integrate these findings into their religion, but more conservative
Protestants refused this strategy. This refusal was known as fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists insisted on the divine inspiration and truth of
every word in the Bible, and focused in the early 1920s on refuting
the theory of evolution. Articulated by Charles Darwin in 1895, evolution
contradicted biblical accounts of the creation of man. William
Jennings Bryan, former presidential candidate and secretary
of state, led a movement to ban schools from teaching evolution.
In 1925, the Tennessee legislature did just that, prompting the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) to offer to defend any teacher willing
to challenge this law. John T. Scopes accepted this offer, broke
the law, and was arrested, bringing the issue to court. In the famed Scopes
Monkey Trial, Bryan aided the prosecution, and Chicago lawyer Clarence
Darrow defended Scopes. The judge would not allow expert
testimony, leaving the matter basically up to debate between Darrow
and Bryan. In cross-examination, Darrow made a fool of Bryan, exposing
the latter’s lack of scientific knowledge. Although Scopes was found
guilty, the nation at large, paying close attention to the trial,
generally considered the anti-fundamentalist forces to have won