Was America a ‘land of opportunity’?

Background Information

America was obsessed with the idea of an American Dream - the idea that there was a fortune to be made for everyone no matter where you can from, based upon the U.S. Declaration of Independence which states that ‘all men are created equal’ - and in many ways America was a fantastic place to be. In particular, the Boom was taking America far beyond the wealth and social stagnation of Europe.

America was believed to be a ‘land of opportunity’, to emigrate to, because:

  1. Where in Europe land was scarce and expensive, in America it was abundant and cheap.
  2. In Europe social class dominated opportunity, America was seen as a place of new beginnings.
  3. Europe saw widespread poverty and whole slums of poor living conditions, whereas in America labour was valued and pay was decent.

Between 1850 and 1920, over 40 million people moved from Europe to the United States, which was almost 10% of Europe’s population! In 1920, there were twice as many Irish people in New York compared to Dublin – the Irish capital city. However, just as women did not benefit as much from the ‘Boom’ and Flapper movement as may be imagined, so too did two groups not truly feel the benefits of the ‘American Dream’: immigrants, and ethnic minorities. For immigrants, this was partly when the makeup of immigrants changed from predominantly WASP cultures which reflected the dominant group in America (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, such as Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands), to more southern and eastern European peoples who were viewed with more suspicion in America.

How did America react to immigration?

The American Government passed three laws which restricted immigration, each of which got harsher:

  1. Literacy Test, 1917: All immigrants had to take (and pass) reading and writing tests.
  2. The Emergency Quota Act, 1921: There could be no more than 357’000 immigrants a year, and there were restrictions on certain national groups.
  3. The National Origins Act, 1924: This cut the number of immigrants by more than half, to 150’000, and further restricted immigration from countries that did not already have established communities in the United States.

Immigrants were not the only group to receive increasingly poor treatment in America throughout the 1920s._ __Black African Americans_, in particular, suffered at the hands of an organisation called the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). This was a right-wing, highly racist terror group, who saw their purpose as ridding America of black people, whom they saw as ‘a plague’, and ensure that white Americans were in total control. By 1925, over 5 million white Americans had joined the KKK. One particular effect of the KKK was that they carried out ‘lynchings’ of Black American Americans – hanging them without trial or law, often simply for being black. Furthermore, most of America was ‘segregated’ – white and black people were kept apart, using different facilities such as toilets, taps, and transport.

What was life like for Immigrants and African Americans?

Read the following statements, and decide whether they:

  1. Are positive or negative experiences
  2. Represent the experiences of Immigrants, African Americans, or both.

The first has been done for you (follow this format in your answers).

By the 1920s, there was a whole generation of ‘old immigrants’ – people who had arrived since 1850. These people had established themselves, and resented the arrival of new competition. These older WASP communities made it harder for newer immigrants to settle properly.

The American Dream
Your answer should include: equal / chance / good / life
WASP
Your answer should include: White / Anglo / Saxon / Protestants
Immigrant?
comes from different country
The KKK
Your answer should include: white / supremacist / group / Klu Klux Klan
Segregation
Your answer should include: law / black / white / separate / separation
Lynching
Your answer should include: illegal / hanging / no trial