The Social and Political Background
T wo of the most significant elements in the black experience around the turn of the century were the steady deterioration of the race's social and political position in America, and especially in the South, and the steadily growing exodus of blacks from their homes in the rural South to the industrial cities of the South and North. The effect of these developments on black history must not be underestimated. Besides the obvious changes evidenced by the growth of black ghettos in northern cities and the resurgence of black militancy in the face of an apparently unremitting chain of racism, violence, and injustice, there was also a more subtle shift of attitude among blacks. By the 1920s few black intellectuals still believed that the future of their race lay in the South. As they turned their attention northward and focused their hope on the emerging black communities in northern cities, however, they also were turning their backs on their southern heritage.
The basic political experience of blacks at the turn of the century was that during the two decades following the end of Reconstruction they had witnessed the systematic erosion of the rights they had achieved under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and through the various acts of Congress and the Reconstruction governments in the South. Although in the half century following emancipation a number of blacks successfully accumulated property and acquired an education, most remained poorly educated and mired in rural poverty. Even those who had achieved some material success saw these accomplishments threatened by the growth of segregation and racial violence. Supreme Court reinterpretations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments left blacks defenseless against the segregationist enactments of southern legislatures. In Williams v. Mis