Magazine article The Nation

The Nation's Century

Magazine article The Nation

The Nation's Century

Article excerpt

One hundred significant events of the 20th century in terms of freedom, human rights and social justice


1900-02: The century opens with the United States engaged in a war to suppress the movement for independence in the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, which launched America as an imperialist power. First of many US interventions in what will be called the Third World.

1903: Publication of The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois with its prophecy, "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line."

1903: Songwriter ("St. Louis Blues") and band leader W.C. Handy encounters "the weirdest music I had ever heard" while waiting for a train in Tutwiler, Mississippi; what he and others will popularize as the blues will become the most influential American musical idiom, inflecting jazz, rock and roll, soul and rhythm and blues.

1903: McClure's January issue publishes voluminously documented investigations by Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker of civic corruption, Standard Oil, violence against nonstrikers, launching wave of muckraking journalism.

1905: Founding of Industrial Workers of the World, which seeks to organize workers in a single union undivided by craft, sex or race and dedicated to class struggle. Its free-speech fights (1908-11) begin process of making civil liberties a major public concern in twentieth- century America.

1908: Introduction of Model T Ford, harbinger of "Fordist" model of mass production, mass consumption and vast social changes automobile will produce.


1910: NAACP, founded by black and white intellectuals, resumes battle for racial equality inherited from nineteenth-century abolition movement.

1910: National Sewing Machine Company introduces Happy Day Electric Home Laundry Machine, which, with electric vacuum cleaner (1901) transforms housework and women's daily lives.

1911: Publication of Principles of Scientific Management, by F. W. Taylor, a key document in effort by corporate management to exert full control over industrial work process.

1912: "Bread and Roses" strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, led by IWW and remarkable for full participation of women, reveals militancy and solidarity of unskilled immigrant industrial workers.

1912: Four-way presidential campaign focuses on issue of impact of growing corporate power on American democracy. Progressive Party platform sets agenda for a half-century of modern liberalism, including democratic reform, government regulation of labor conditions and minimum wages, and right to collective bargaining. Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs receives close to 1 million votes.

1913: Armory show introduces Cubism, Futurism (e.g., Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase), Post-impressionism and other forms of modern art to United States.

1915: D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, integrating spectacle and advanced film technique, marks coming of age of cinema as mass art form, even as it conveys brutally racist imagery of African-Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

1916: Margaret Sanger, pioneer of family-planning movement, opens first US birth-control clinic in Brooklyn and is arrested; after thirty days in jail she founds New York Birth Control League.

1917: United States enters World War I: Socialists oppose US participation, attempting to resurrect principle of working-class internationalism abandoned by European Socialist leaders in 1914 when they chose to support their respective nations in the war.

1917-18: Espionage and Sedition acts make criticism of war policies of Wilson Administration federal crimes. Magazines deemed seditious by Post-master General are banned from mails. Debs is jailed in 1918 for antiwar speeches, along with 900 others. US government breaks IWW by imprisoning its leaders. …

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