What Life Was Like in the Roaring Twenties

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Women gained the legal right to vote for the first time

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, mandating women’s suffrage, was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919. At least 36 state legislatures had to ratify it, and the last of these (Tennessee) complied on Aug. 18, 1920. African-American and Asian-American women still found it difficult if not impossible to exercise their rights, however.

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Blacks were moving north en masse

In 1910, about 90% of the country’s African-American population lived in the South. Beginning that year, in what has been dubbed the Great Migration, many started moving to other parts of the country, mostly the North, in search of work. The first wave of the movement lasted until 1930, and in the 1920s alone, about 750,000 Blacks made the trek.

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Segregation was rampant

If Blacks moving out of the South hoped to find a more welcoming environment elsewhere in America, they were sadly disappointed. Zoning laws kept them out of “white” neighborhoods, Jim Crow laws were enforced in many places just as they had been in the South, and racial violence was commonplace. (In 1921 alone, rampaging mobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed some 35 square blocks of the so-called Black Wall Street, and left as many as 300 dead.)

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White supremacy proliferated

Though originally founded in the South immediately after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan reemerged in the 1920s as a potent foe of Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants of all kinds. The organization found followers in cities in the West and Midwest as well as the North, and in the mid-1920s, claimed to have as many as five million members nationwide.

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Most immigrants weren’t welcome

The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 and the National Origins Act of 1924 severely limited the number of immigrants, particularly targeting those from southern and eastern Europe. The executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927, for a murder they almost certainly didn’t commit, was fueled by anti-Italian “nativists.” The Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 had already banned all immigration from most of Asia and the Middle East.