Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader

By Jonathan Bean | Go to book overview

4
Republicans and Race
1921–1932

THE ROARING TWENTIES were an ugly period in U.S. race relations. Lynching and mob violence continued to terrorize African Americans in the South, and occasionally the North and West (as witnessed by the bloody Tulsa race riot of 1921). The Ku Klux Klan revived in new form, attacking not only blacks but also Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. By the mid-1920s, the KKK had millions of members before disintegrating in the midst of scandal and counterattacks by opponents.

Above all, this was an era of paradox and pragmatism. Republicans passed an antilynching bill but relented when a Democratic filibuster stymied all other issues on the congressional agenda. President Warren Harding spoke courageously against southern racism, but Democratic victories in Congress limited his power to do more. President Calvin Coolidge signed the National Origins Quota Act (1924), which shut down immigration for decades to come. Yet, at the same time, Coolidge challenged the KKK and other nativist forces by espousing a classical liberal philosophy of civil rights in “controversial” venues, such as Howard University, the leading historically black college. As secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover desegregated his agency’s workforce and, as late as 1932, when Hoover ran for reelection, a majority of black voters supported his GOP ticket.

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