Religion and race

Religion and race

Religion and Society

  • In the early 20th century, religion played a significant part in American society, with most people defining themselves as Christians.
  • Protestantism dominated, particularly in rural areas and the South, but there were also significant numbers of Catholics, especially among immigrant communities from Italy and Ireland.
  • There was a growth of religious fundamentalism, characterised by a literal interpretation of the Bible. The Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925 highlighted the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, when a school teacher was prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.
  • Many Christians supported the temperance movement, which argued for the prohibition of alcohol. They saw drinking as a sin and the cause of many social problems, leading to the introduction of Prohibition in 1920.
  • The role of religion in politics and society remained strong, but it was challenged by scientific discoveries, and the increased influence of secular and modernist ideas, especially in urban areas and among younger generations.

African-Americans and Society

  • African-Americans faced extensive racism and segregation, particularly in the South where the majority lived. This system was known as Jim Crow laws and prevented African-Americans from voting, limited their use of public facilities and enforced racial segregation in schools and workplaces.
  • Many African-Americans migrated from the South to the North and West in search of better opportunities, a movement known as the Great Migration. They faced racial tensions and discrimination in the North too, but had more chances to work and live in better conditions.
  • The period saw the formation of African-American organisations fighting for civil rights, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). They challenged segregation laws and lobbied for equal rights.
  • The 1920s also saw the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of flourishing African-American culture with an outpouring of music, literature and art, celebrating black life and challenging stereotypes and racism.
  • Race relations remained a significant issue throughout this period. The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1920s highlighted the significant racist sentiment and violence against African-Americans and other minority groups.

Immigration and Society

  • The USA was a nation of immigrants in the early 20th century, with many coming from European countries. However, anti-immigrant sentiment was quite strong, especially against those seen as ethnically, racially or religiously different.
  • Immigrants faced discrimination and were often blamed for societal problems. They were considered as a threat to American jobs, culture and social stability.
  • Consequently, the government passed strict immigration laws, like The Immigration Act of 1924, which set quotas limiting the number of immigrants, particularly targeting those from Eastern and Southern Europe.
  • Despite discrimination, many immigrants, including those from Italy, Ireland, and Eastern Europe, formed close-knit communities, maintaining traditions and language from their homelands. Over time, they made significant contributions to American society and economy.