White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945

By Thomas A. Guglielmo | Go to book overview

3
THE WHITE PERIL OF EUROPE

On May 26, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed bill into law, severely reducing the numbers of southern and eastern Europeans permitted to migrate to the United States and excluding Japanese immigrants entirely. The bill's passage came as the culmination of a decades-long rise in anti-immigrant racialism in the United States that greeted Italians as soon as they arrived in Chicago in magazines, in newspapers, in government reports, on the job, and in their neighborhoods. But ascendant anti-immigrant racialism leading to restriction and exclusion is only part of the story. 1 A diverse set of alternative voices—from liberal intellectuals and scientists to “new” immigrants themselves—had existed for years and continued to contest racialist notions and dogma. This chapter explores some of the complex contours of this debate on “new” European immigration as it was fought out both nationally and in Chicago between the end of World War I and the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. Because many of these debates took place at the national level, this chapter, more than others, will focus as much on events and people outside as inside Chicago.

Anti-immigrant racialism and restriction marked southern Italians (and northerners too on occasion) as racial undesirables, who were, according to men like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, as well as to their many allies in magazines, newspapers, and grassroots organizations, a biological, cultural, political, and economic menace to the American nation. Such convictions were particularly strong in Chicago, where the city's two major newspapers absorbed and disseminated them enthusiastically, and the Ku Klux Klan formed a vibrant set of local chapters. Rising racialism, however, never challenged Italians' whiteness in any consequential way. According to virtually all racialists at both the national and local Chicago levels, if Italians were a national peril, they were a “white peril” just the same.

Italians approached matters differently. Despite the many assaults

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White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • White on Arrival *
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Early Italian Chicago 14
  • 2 - Riot and Relations 39
  • 3 - The White Peril of Europe 59
  • 4 - Race, Color, and Crime 76
  • 5 - Mayoral Races, Mayoral Colors 93
  • 6 - Fascism, Empire, and War 113
  • 7 - Radicalism, Unionism, and the Depression 129
  • 8 - The Color of Housing 146
  • Conclusion 172
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 241
  • Index 273
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