The Nation's Century

The Nation, January 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Nation's Century

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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