The Violence of the Progressive Era
THE TWENTIETH century was heralded as the dawn of a new enlightened age of reason and peace. But in actuality mankind during the new century was to witness both revolutionary change and violence unleashed on an unprecedented scale. In the years since 1900 Afro-Americans, operating in a changed world context and expressing their demands through a more effective, organized militancy, have made progress in their struggle for freedom. But these years have also seen racial violence intensified, modernized in its methods, and extended throughout the nation.
The violence inflicted upon blacks during the early years of the twentieth century foreshadowed the genocidal treatment of racial and ethnic minorities that would become one of the hallmarks of this era. Violence against individuals or groups of individuals would become transformed into a systematic assault upon the lives and physical well-being of the entire minority group, in its most extreme form developing into an attempt to exterminate entire peoples. In the United States after 1900, lynchings continued as weekly phenomena, and mob assaults, comparable to European pogroms, against black communities became commonplace occurrences in both the North and the South. W. E. B. Du Bois was indeed prescient when he wrote that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." What to some appeared to be only an issue of parochial American significance Du Bois recognized as having critical meaning for the world.
An introduction to the racial brutality of the present century was provided by the 1900 "riot" occurring in the city of New York. This event was a confrontation between the black population of the nation's greatest and most cosmopolitan city on one side and the official representatives of law and order on the other. New York streets were the setting for acts of terror against blacks, and in the aftermath of mob violence the point was driven home that public authority would not discipline those responsible.