Part Five: 1900-1950
History is not the past. History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal. – James Baldwin
1900: Most adult men in Manhattan are foreign-born. Courts determine that all persons born in the U.S. or its territories are citizens, except for those born in American Samoa, a U.S. territory, who are considered “non-citizen nationals.” The Assistant Attorney General for Indian Territory reiterates that tribal laws are still in place and are to be enforced. No one pays attention, and the ruling has no effect. Louisiana adopts a new constitution with restrictive provisions intended to exclude blacks from civic participation, including a poll tax and literacy and property-ownership requirements. Following a riot during which police had encouraged white mobs, New Yorkers form a Citizens’ Protective League to pursue prosecutions against them but are unsuccessful. Women of all races remain barred from voting. Every state now has laws forbidding abortion. Most allow physicians to use their discretion, putting a woman’s decision whether or not to be pregnant in the hands of men. The Boston Public Library keeps books deemed objectionable in a locked room accessible only to scholars. An estimated 325 bison are left on the plains.
1901: A series of Supreme Court decisions determines that full citizenship rights do not extend to all places under American control, especially islands where people of color live (“savage and “alien races”) who cannot understand “Anglo-Saxon principles.” This permanently excludes Puerto Ricans, Samoans and many others from voting for President. Delaware finally ratifies the 13th Amendment. Alabama prohibits interracial marriage and mandates separate schools for black and white children. The AFL denounces Chinese workers. The decade will see eleven large race riots.
1902: The government funds 25 non-reservation schools in 15 states and territories, forcibly enrolling 6,000 Native students. Anti-Semitic riots occur in New York City. Congress passes a series of Allotment Acts to further break up communally held tribal lands, force the sale of surplus land to non-Indians, and select disposition of town sites in what is now Oklahoma. Cherokees are given a homestead assignment and “away lands” to reflect land use patterns, but white settlers invade the away lands. Thousands of whites get themselves illegally listed on tribal rolls. The Choctaws and Chickasaws challenge those lists, and remove 3,200 people from the rolls. The Department of the Interior removes all identified mineral-rich lands in Indian Country from the allotment process and releases them to mining companies and the railroads.
1902-1904: Chinese exclusion is extended and then made indefinite.
1903: The Immigration Act adds four inadmissible classes: anarchists, people with epilepsy, beggars, and importers of prostitutes. The Sunday Closing League is formed. Its members patrol the streets looking for violators of the Blue Laws. A Court refuses to allow a resident of the Territory of Hawaii to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. National Geographic publishes the first photos of bare-breasted Filipina women.
1904: The government renews prohibition of the Sun Dance among Plains Indians. The advent of the railroad, which reaches the border city of Brownsville, Texas, makes Anglo expansion onto historically Mexican land possible, shifting the balance of power along the Rio Grande. Tax assessments soar. In just two Texas counties over 187,000 acres of land transfer from Latino to Anglo hands.
1905: The Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw nations create a constitution for a proposed state of Sequoyah, which would be distinct from Oklahoma. Congress ignores them. Real estate agents in Berkeley, CA and Kansas City, Mo begin recording racial covenants to sell house lots in high-end subdivisions. Los Angeles soon becomes the national leader in using such deed restrictions. Jews are concentrated in the garment industry in part because they are frozen out of printing, carpentry, painting, building, and highly unionized fields like transportation and communication.
1906: Atlanta race massacre. Theodore Roosevelt declares in his State of the Union Message, “The greatest existing cause of lynching is the perpetration, especially by black men, of the hideous crime of rape – the most abominable in all the category of crimes, even worse than murder.” The Burke Act dissolves sovereign tribal governments and communal lands and requires the federal government to assess whether individuals are “competent and capable” before granting them their allotted land. Citizenship is not to be granted to Native Americans until the end of a 25-year probationary period. The first of 120,000 Filipino workers (“nationals”, not citizens) arrive in Hawaii. San Francisco’s large Chinatown is destroyed by fire following the great earthquake.
1907: Anti-Asian riots occur in San Francisco, Bellingham, Washington and Vancouver. Oklahoma becomes a state. Congress again lowers the threshold for immigration exclusions to include “All idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics…persons who have been insane within five years previous…persons likely to become a public charge; professional beggars; persons afflicted with…loathsome or dangerous contagious disease…” The Expatriation Act decrees that any naturalized citizen residing for two years in one’s foreign state of origin or five years in any other foreign state or any American woman who marries an alien loses their citizenship. Diplomats informally agree with Japan that it will not allow further emigration to the U.S., which will not impose restrictions on Japanese immigrants already present in the country. The Michigan Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church refuses to ordain black bishops. Chicago enacts the first film censorship ordinance. By 1922 over a hundred cities and seven states will empower censorship boards.
1908: Springfield, Illinois race riot. New York City holds voter registration on the Jewish Sabbath and during Yom Kippur as a way of keeping Jews, who are often socialists, away from the polls. The popular stage play The Melting Pot instructs recent immigrants that the route to happiness is through whiteness, individualism, “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” and distancing oneself from ethnicity.
1909: Modern policing begins in Berkeley, CA. August Vollmer refashions police along a strictly military model, using tactics previously deployed against Indians and Filipinos. His model is copied across the country by police departments which will often be led and staffed by war veterans. Nativists destroy a Greek immigrant community in South Omaha, Nebraska. The Census Bureau classifies Jews as their own race, Hebrews. Pittsburgh police arrest over 200 Black men for being unemployed and consign them to forced labor.
1909-1979: Under state eugenics laws, 60,000 residents of California state-run institutions will be sterilized. Even after 1979, forced or coerced sterilizations will still be performed on people in custody at state prisons.
1910: Slocum, Texas race riot. The Angel Island Immigration Station begins operation in San Francisco Bay to monitor the flow of Chinese entering the country. It will eventually hold hundreds of thousands. By 1915, Japanese immigrants will outnumber Chinese. At Ellis Island on the east coast, only 1-3% of all arriving immigrants will be rejected, while at Angel, due to anti-Asian discrimination, the number will be 18%. While Ellis arrivals enter the country almost immediately, Asians are frequently imprisoned on Angel for many months. Riots in dozens of cities follow the championship victory of black boxer Jack Johnson over a white opponent. Louisiana prohibits blacks and whites from living together under any circumstances. An appellate court in D.C. rules that an eight-year-old girl cannot attend a local public school because she is 1/16th Black. Nine percent of the population are of German parentage. Over 40% of white farmers in Georgia own land, compared to 7% of the state’s black farmers.
1911: The final massacre of Native Americans occurs in Nevada. Arkansas makes interracial sex a felony, going beyond the “1/16” rule to determine a Black person as having “any Negro blood whatever”. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York kills 146 sweatshop workers, mostly Italian or Jewish immigrant women. President Taft orders black soldiers out of Texas for protesting segregation. The government outlaws controlled forest burnings in Native communities. For the next hundred years, the Forest Service will focus on putting out fires rather than managing them. Partially as a result, the entire West will experience massive fires every summer. Ishi, the last surviving member of the Yahi tribe, emerges from a northern California forest and lives five more years.
1913: A mob lynches the Jew Leo Frank in Georgia. Several western states enact laws that ban “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning land. The Supreme Court upholds these laws. The 17th Amendment finally gives voters rather than state legislatures the right to elect senators. It conducts intelligence tests on new immigrants. Thirty-five Blacks die in a Mississippi prison camp fire. Los Angeles completes its first aqueduct and begins to export water from the Owens Valley, ultimately turning the lake dry and wrecking the once-lush Paiute reservation. The L.A. Housing Commission laments that Mexican Americans can secure housing only if racial restrictions “were not placed upon every new tract of land where lots are sold.”
1914: The AFL demands that “all races native to Asia” be excluded permanently from the U.S. and urges Blacks to “form colored workers’ unions”. The third edition of Stedman’s Practical Medical Dictionary still includes an entry for “drapetomania”. California allows prison inmates to receive mail.
1915: Alabama bars treatment of Black men by White nurses. The Supreme Court upholds the Expatriation Act of 1907. Under that act, women who lost their U.S. citizenship could apply to be naturalized if their husbands later became American citizens. But since virtually all Asian immigrants are barred from becoming citizens, an American woman who marries an Asian man will still lose her citizenship permanently. Similarly, women of Asian descent born in the U.S. have no means of regaining their U.S. citizenship if they lose it through marriage to a foreigner – even if the foreigner is white – because Asian men and women are ineligible for naturalization in all circumstances. Congress authorizes mounted border guards to pursue Chinese aliens. The Supreme Court decides that free speech does not extend to motion pictures.
1915-1920: The Texas Rangers and vigilantes murder several thousand Mexicans and Mexican American citizens (“Tejanos”) along the borderlands and push many more across the border. Tejanos call this new era of racial segregation “Juan Crow”.
1916: A government official estimates that three-fifths of Indian children are dying before age 5. “Patriotic” societies such as the National Security League and the American Defense Society demand compulsory military training at schools, the end of foreign-language instruction and “100 percent Americanism”.
Opposing candidates Woodrow Wilson and Charles Hughes each declare “hyphenated Americans” to be potentially disloyal and view German Americans as potential spies and saboteurs. Winning the Presidency, Wilson orders 110,000 National Guardsmen from state militias to the Mexican border. He shows the film The Birth of a Nation, which presents Ku Klux Klansmen as saviors of white civilization, at the White House. This immediately provokes a vast expansion of the Klan. He goes on to defend racial segregation of government workers, a policy that will harm Blacks for decades. The federal government will require photographs on civil service applications until 1940.
1917: White mobs kill 200 black residents of East St. Louis. Congress bars immigration from the Asia-Pacific Zone and creates new categories of inadmissible persons, including: “alcoholics,” “feebleminded persons,” “persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority,” “political radicals,” “polygamists,” “prostitutes” and “vagrants.” The government extends citizenship to Puerto Ricans and other territorial residents – but not presidential voting rights. Tens of thousands of rural blacks begin to leave the South in the first Great Migration, with 1.5 million arriving in northern and midwestern industrial cities by 1940. Wilson proclaims all German citizens “alien enemies.” An army manual for war recruits states that, “The foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger than the native-born.” The Selective Service Act imposes mandatory conscription. As a result, over 18,000 Puerto Ricans are forced to serve, in segregated units.
Over 200 women, the Silent Sentinels, are arrested while picketing the White House, some of whom go on hunger strikes. Despite representing a quarter of the Navy during the Civil War and the latter half of the 19th century, Blacks’ opportunities in the Navy are abruptly curtailed. They now represent 1.2% of the Navy, and are only allowed in the galleys or coal rooms of ships. Of the 380,000 blacks who serve in the Army, only 40,000 are allowed to see battle. One regiment (the “Harlem Hellfighters”) spends more time at the front than any other American unit. Other units serve honorably in the French army. Black soldiers clash with Houston whites in the “Camp Logan Mutiny,” the only riot in U.S. history to result in more white than black casualties. Nineteen Black soldiers are hanged and 63 receive life sentences. No white civilians are charged. Because of expansions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, fully ¾ of the world’s population is ineligible to become American, based on racial identity.
1917-1925: Four states unsuccessfully attempt to make their anti-birth laws less restrictive.
1918: Porvenir massacre: Texas Rangers and ranchers murder 15 Tejano men. White mobs aided by federal troops and the Ku Klux Klan massacre several hundred Blacks near Elaine, Arkansas. Germans who fail to be fingerprinted are placed in internment camps, along with conscientious objectors. German-language services in churches are disrupted and German-language newspapers are shut down. Churches housing German congregations are painted yellow and schoolchildren are forced to sign pledges promising not to use any foreign language. Citizens of German descent are dragged out of their homes at night and forced to kiss the flag or sing the national anthem. Acts of vigilantism include the tarring and featherings of war opponents and at least one lynching.
The government asserts the power to quarantine any woman suspected of having a sexually transmitted disease. If a medical examination reveals an STD, this can constitute proof of prostitution. Authorities detain 30,000 women and imprison 15,000 with no due process. They can be detained and examined for not being properly attired at beaches; for sitting at restaurants alone; for changing jobs; for being with a man; for walking down a street in a way male officials find suspicious; and for refusing to have sex with police officers. By 1921, every state will institute similar statutes. The program will last into the 1970s, with perhaps hundreds of thousands of women – and only women – being forcibly examined for STDs, many of them sterilized. Each state still has the power to examine and isolate “reasonably suspected” people. Women are allowed to use birth control for therapeutic purposes. Cherokee and Choctaw soldiers serve as the first code talkers. War veterans of Asian ancestry receive the right of naturalization. The Sedition Act criminalizes free speech criticism of the government, which imprisons socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs.
1918-1931: Sixty wealthy Osage are murdered for land, oil, and timber in Oklahoma.
1919: A hundred thousand Black veterans move north. Subject to racially discriminatory administration of benefits, many are denied medical care and other assistance; some who complain are discharged with no disability pay. At least thirteen are lynched.
White-on-black race riots occur in Chicago, Washington, Houston, East St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa, Charleston, and 18 other cities. In the largest strike wave in U.S. history, one in five workers walks off the job. The Palmer raids during the Red Scare result in the arrest of several thousand citizens and deportation of 500 non-citizens. American Indian soldiers and sailors receive citizenship.
1920: The Supreme Court upholds California’s Alien Land Laws. The “100 Percent Americanism” campaign exploits post-war anxieties by promoting the KKK as a defender of the nation from defilement by Blacks, Catholics, Jews, foreigners and “moral offenders.” Within 16 months, it will attract 100,000 new members. Racial terror displaces entire Black communities throughout the South and hundreds of thousands flee, creating a mass migration northward that will last into the 1970s. The 18th Amendment prohibits alcoholic drinks, half a year before the 19th Amendment grants women (but not Native women) the right to vote. Boston is so notorious for banning books that authors intentionally print their books there, hoping for publicity boosts. Debs, unable to campaign because he is in prison, still receives over 900,000 votes for President.
1921: The Emergency Quota Act establishes numerical limits “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.” It prohibits the immigration of Arabs, East Asians and Indians and restricts the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the residents from that country living in the U.S. in 1910. This ensures that northern Europeans have a higher quota than people from eastern or southern Europe or non-European countries. The number of new immigrants admitted will fall from 800,000 in 1920 to 300,00 in 1921.
In the worst incident of racial violence in American history, white mobs attack blacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroying 35 square blocks, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. The disaster will influence racialized economic disparities between whites and blacks in Tulsa – and the dozens of places that experience similar violence – for a hundred years.
Three months later, a racially integrated force of 10,000 coalminers fight a private army in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in U.S. history and the largest armed uprising since the Civil War. Private planes are hired to drop poison gas bombs on the miners. A hundred are killed. The American Eugenics Society is formed. Soon, the Nazis will copy the American system. The Chicago real estate board expels members who sell to Black families in White neighborhoods. Feminists win passage of an equal rights law in Wisconsin. They will subsequently introduce an Equal Rights Amendment in every congressional session between 1921 and 1972, but it will rarely reach the floor of either the Senate or the House.
1922: Congress allows women to retain their citizenship after marrying a (non-Asian) alien if they stay in the country. The Supreme Court finds a Japanese American who was born in Japan but had lived in the U.S. for 20 years ineligible for naturalization. Various cities implement dress codes on public beaches. Police with tape measures identify women who aren’t covering enough of their legs. Violators may be arrested. A court denies a jury trial to a Puerto Rican, explaining that Congress had determined that Puerto Ricans are not “citizens trained to the responsibilities of jurors”.
1923: White mobs destroy the Black town of Rosewood, Florida, killing 150. A Klan rally opposing interracial marriage draws a thousand participants in upstate New York. The Mississippi Supreme Court allows a school to expel a Chinese American student, citing an earlier case in which it had upheld the right to expel children whose great-aunts are rumored to have married nonwhites.
1924: The government grants Native Americans the right to vote. Congress establishes the Border patrol on the Mexican border and further restricts immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, requiring for the first time that immigrants have visas. This introduces the concept of “having papers” (few of those who immigrated prior to this point would be admitted under these far more stringent standards). It establishes deportation courts for non-white immigrants and Eastern and Southern European immigrants who exceed their national quotas. Subsequent court rulings will determine that Asian Indians are not white and cannot immigrate. It also mandates that quotas are to be filled not by counting immigrants but by counting immigration certificates issued at consular offices abroad. By keeping migrants far from American soil, this prevents them from using the courts to apply for asylum or challenge decisions by consular officials. From this point forward, the main barrier to entering the U.S. will be obtaining a visa, not avoiding a border patrol agent. This ends the period of open borders.
Since persons of mixed white and Native American ancestry are considered white, the law continues to allow Latin Americans (whom Big Agriculture needs as laborers) to immigrate as “whites” in unlimited numbers, despite being ineligible for citizenship. While it spares Mexico a quota, secondary laws, including one that makes it a crime to enter the country outside official ports of entry, give border and customs agents on-the-spot discretion to decide who can enter legally. This turns what had been a routine daily or seasonal event – crossing the border to go to work – into a ritual of abuse with degrading hygienic inspections (kerosene baths and delousing procedures), literacy tests and entrance fees. Virginia passes the first eugenics-based sterilization law, bans interracial marriage and codifies the “1/16th” rule to determine African blood. It makes an exception for several officials who claim descent from Pocahontas. The KKK now has 4 million members nationwide, including thousands of Protestant ministers. It elects several congressmen and state governors. The last victim of the Palmer raids is released from prison.
1925: A North Carolina mob castrates the Jew Joseph Needleman after a woman accuses him of rape. Tennessee bans the teaching of evolution. Ads in the Los Angeles Times boast that “the residents of Eagle Rock are all of the white race.” People of color, effectively excluded from 95% of housing, pay 20% more for the same quality unit. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first union led by blacks to receive a charter in the AFL, will grow to 18,000 members, but most AFL unions rigorously continue to exclude blacks.
1925-1936: The government deports nearly two million Mexicans, most without due process, 60% of whom are U.S.-born citizens. President Herbert Hoover’s administration uses the racially coded slogan, “American jobs for real Americans”. Some state laws ban Mexican Americans from government employment, regardless of their citizenship status.
1926: The Supreme Court rules that racially restrictive housing covenants are legal and enforceable.
1927: The Mississippi river overflows in the most destructive flood in U.S. history. Authorities force 2,000 black men at gunpoint to repair the levees without pay. Planters prevent homeless blacks from boarding evacuation barges to keep their cheap labor force. The Red Cross establishes racially segregated refugee camps. The anarchists and Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti are executed after a prejudiced trial. The Supreme Court upholds a law banning Chinese Americans from white schools.
1928: Following a Florida hurricane, white victims receive proper burial while the bodies of 674 Black victims are bulldozed into mass graves. Alabama is the last state to abolish its convict leasing system.
1929: Congress allows aliens to register as permanent residents if they can prove they have lived in the U.S. since 1921 and are of “good moral character.” Between 1925 and 1965, 200,000 illegal Europeans will use this law to legalize their status. Thousands of Mexicans are prosecuted for illegal entry and make up 85% of all immigration prisoners. The Bureau of Prison builds three new prisons in the border region. But during the Depression, more people will emigrate from the U.S. than to it. Boston bans Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Strange Interlude.
1930s: Numbers of women equal those of men as legal immigrants. Considering the possibility of war with Britain, the government makes plans to invade and annex Canada. Initially formulated in 1924, “Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan – Red” is approved under Herbert Hoover in 1930 and updated under Franklin Roosevelt. The plan authorizes the use of chemical warfare and the bombing of Halifax, Montreal and Quebec.
1930: White mobs attack Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California after Filipino men dance with white women. The national unemployment rate for blacks and whites is the same, but by 1965, the black rate will be double that of whites.
1931: Two Black women die after a segregated Georgia hospital refuses care. Historian James Adams coins the phrase the American Dream, defining it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
1931-1936: The Smithsonian exhumes and carries off 800 Alaska Native remains. The Bureau of Indian Affairs destroys 250,000 sheep and goats without any Dine’ consultation. Civil rights litigators begin to win court victories that desegregate colleges and graduate schools.
1932: Birth control activist Margaret Sanger publishes a book supporting eugenics. The Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute persuade 600 black sharecroppers to participate in an experiment examining the effects of untreated syphilis. The infected are not informed and receive no treatment, even after penicillin is discovered. Over 40 years, 128 participants will die. In over 40 other experiments doctors deliberately infect healthy black patients with various diseases including cancer cells. Some experiments recruit black children exclusively. Black doctors will be barred from some chapters of the American Medical Association until the 1960’s.
1933: Nazi Germany passes a eugenics law based on the American system. A Mexican diplomat and several farmworkers are killed during a California labor strike. Frances Perkins is the first woman Cabinet member. Roosevelt prohibits hiring discrimination in public works and defense. In uniting northern liberals and southern conservatives, he maintains silence on the question of race, fearing that the coalition will disintegrate. Southern politicians, who will defeat over 200 anti-lynching bills, support Social Security only if it excludes agricultural laborers and domestic servants. This compromise excludes 2/3 of blacks from welfare state protections.
1934: Congress agrees to grant Philippine independence in ten years, limiting quotas to 50/year. However, in case of labor shortages, It authorizes Hawaii to recruit Filipinos. Between 1946 and 1965, 10-12,000 will arrive there. Congress establishes the Federal Housing Administration to aid the public in buying homes. The Public Works Administration demolishes housing in many integrated neighborhoods and builds explicitly segregated housing instead. The policy creates racial boundaries where they had not previously existed, giving segregation new government sanction. By insuring private mortgages, the FHA causes a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But its own policies of redlining, withholding of lending from certain communities based on color-coded risk maps and mandating of restrictive covenants ensures that housing subsidies will go almost exclusively to whites. Some developers try to make their housing projects seem less risky by building barriers and even highways to separate them from predominantly Black neighborhoods. Responding to Catholic pressure, Roosevelt formally establishes Columbus Day as a national holiday.
1934-1968: The Motion Picture Production Code, or “Hays Code”, is a set of guidelines for the self-censorship of content that will be applied to most films released by major studios. One of its categories it forbids is miscegenation.
1935: The National Labor Relations Act guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into unions and engage in collective bargaining. It originally prohibits the government from certifying unions that exclude blacks from membership. That provision is deleted from the final bill, and the government proceeds to certify all-white unions, including the most powerful unions in the construction trades. Not until 1964 will the government deny certification to such groups. The government first uses the term “affirmative action”. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes requires contractors to employ fixed percentages of Black workers and give equal pay for women. The U.S. holds its largest peacetime military maneuvers in history, with 36,000 troops at the Canadian border. Several Ivy League medical schools retain rigid quotas for Jews; Yale accepts 5 of 200 Jewish applicants. Detroit’s major auto manufacturers violate the Civil Rights Act by forcing a clause in union contracts that locks Black workers into de facto segregated job classifications. Blacks account for under one percent of the skilled labor force while making up 42% of the entire workforce. The Supreme Court rules in the case of the “Scottsboro Boys” that African Americans must be included on juries. The Federal Writer’s Project collects over 2,300 firsthand accounts of slavery. Boston police break up a performance of Clifford Odets‘ play Waiting for Lefty, arresting four actors.
1936: Black athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics. Upon the team’s return, Roosevelt invites all white members of the U.S. team to the White House, but not Owens, who writes, “Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me”. Doctors are allowed to distribute contraceptives across state lines. Colorado orders all its “Mexicans” – anyone who speaks Spanish or appears to be of Latin descent – to leave the state.
1936-1945: The U.S. refuses to admit most Jewish refugees.
1937: Oliver Law is the first African American to command white American troops in battle (in the Spanish Civil War). Congress creates the Housing Authority. The government begins to build highways and single-family suburban homes with cheap mortgages for whites, while segregating blacks into urban high-rises that will come to be called “the projects”. Some geography books still refer to the entire western hemisphere as “America”.
1938: The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) investigates alleged disloyalty. A Polish refugee organizes the first “I Am an American Day”, which eventually becomes “Citizenship Day”. The German American Bund parades in New York wearing Nazi uniforms. Bund leaders refer to Roosevelt as “Frank D. Rosenfeld” and call his programs a front for a Bolshevik-Jewish conspiracy. Two thousand followers of Father Charles Coughlin march in New York protesting potential asylum law changes that would allow Jewish refugees into the country. Forty percent of poll respondents agree that Jews have “too much power in the U.S.” This figure will rise to 58 percent by 1945. The administration expresses concern about the fate of the Jews in Europe but consistently refuse to increase immigration. The government takes control over mineral development on Indian lands. Federally subsidized works projects clear slum populations; New York City alone tears down 9,000 buildings. Most public schools in the country are de jure or de facto segregated.
1939: Over 20,000 people attend a Bund rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Five thousand riot in San Antonio to prevent the Communist Party from holding a public meeting. The SS St. Louis with 936 Jews seeking asylum is refused permission to unload in Florida and forced to return to Europe, where 254 will die in the Holocaust. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers forces out 600 Black workers. Similar purges occur at New Orleans shipyards and at the Boeing Aircraft plant in Seattle. The Justice Department establishes its Civil Liberties Unit. The government decides that no further planning to invade Canada is required, but War Plan Red will not be declassified until 1974.
1940: Blacks (ultimately, 5-6 million) move north and west in the Second Great Migration to work in war industries. Southern resistance to the loss of cheap labor forces some northern recruiters to act in secret or face fines or imprisonment. Police try to prevent black flight by arresting migrants at railroad stations for vagrancy. By 1960, all major Northern and Western cities will have sizable black populations. Racial antagonisms heighten due to urban overcrowding and segregation. The government will not give an FHA loan guarantee to a Detroit builder unless he agrees to construct a half-mile-long concrete wall to separate an all-white housing development he is constructing from an adjoining black neighborhood to its east. Blacks are not allowed in the Marines or the Army Air Corps. Angel Island closes. Twenty-one states, fearing communism rather than fascism, require loyalty oaths from teachers. Over 500 faculty and students of New York’s universities are interrogated and forty faculty are dismissed. Up to 80% of Latino children in places like Orange County, California attend separate schools.
1941: The U.S. provokes Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt outlaws racial discrimination in the war industry. But the enforcement body – the Fair Employment Practices Committee – has no authority to regulate employment practices. Southern states refuse to cooperate. The Boston Housing Authority actively segregates the city’s public housing developments and will continue to do so into the 1960s despite repeated court orders.
1942: Roosevelt forces 125,000 Japanese Americans – as well as 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent, mostly residents of Peru – into concentration camps. Few German or Italian Americans are affected, nor are Japanese Americans in Hawaii, who are deemed necessary to the war effort. Fred Korematsu challenges the policy, but the Supreme Court upholds it.
The government establishes the Bracero Program, which ultimately imports over four million temporary laborers, mostly from Mexico. However, by excluding women, it guarantees that women and children have no access to legal routes of migration and can only follow their men illegally. The result is a bifurcated labor system; one is legal and male, and the other is unlawful, female and young.
A million Black men and women will serve in the military, and six million more will work in the defense industry. A white mob riots against integration in Detroit. Police arrest 200 blacks and three whites. Alabama refuses to assist the war effort, because the nondiscrimination clause in federal contracts could require integration. Allison Davis becomes the first Black professor at a major university. White faculty members at U. of Chicago openly debate whether he should be allowed to teach white students.
All Native men are required to register for the draft, even though they cannot vote in many states. The military destroys several Aleut villages, forcibly transports 880 Aleuts 1,500 miles to internment camps in southeast Alaska and holds them throughout the war. One in ten die. The government uses 900,000 acres of Alaska native lands and 16 Indian reservations for artillery ranges and nuclear test sites. Connecticut’s high court upholds the state’s contraceptive ban for married couples.
1943: Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act but limits Chinese immigration to 105 persons/year. Race riots occur in over a dozen cities. Thousands of white servicemen rampage for a week through East Los Angeles, attacking Latinos in the “Zoot Suit Riots.” Police arrest only Latinos. Strengthening its existing ban on interracial marriage, the California legislature requires that all marriage licenses indicate the race of those to be married.
Second-generation Japanese American men from Hawaii and the internment camps (ultimately over 12,000) form the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which will become the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. Navajo, Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Commanche, Tlingit, Hopi, Cree, and Crow soldiers serve as code talkers, while Japanese and German Americans serve as translators and interrogators. War movies such as Bataan present the “melting pot platoon,” a cinematic convention in which ethnic and racial harmony is predicated upon racist hatred for the Japanese enemy. Other films (briefly) present Russians as allies. The Supreme Court invalidates a West Virginia compulsory flag salute law in public schools.
1944: Roosevelt finally creates a War Refugee Board, and the U.S. takes in more Jewish and other refugees than any other nation, despite resistance by anti-Semites in the State Department. The military (and possibly, Roosevelt himself), however, refuses to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz. The Port Chicago disaster occurs in Northern California. Following a massive munitions explosion that kills 320 mostly black sailors, hundreds refuse to continue loading ships. Fifty are convicted of mutiny. Congress creates the G.I. Bill to aid returning servicemen with college tuition, low-cost home loans and unemployment insurance. But Southern Democrats insist that individual states, rather than the federal government, administer the program to prevent Blacks from participating. Black military policemen stationed in the South cannot enter restaurants where their German prisoners of war are allowed to eat or use the latrines meant for white soldiers and Germans. Twenty-two unions still refuse to admit Blacks. Boston bans Lillian Smith’s novel of interracial romance, Strange Fruit.
1944-1986: Mining companies blast four million tons of ore out of Navajo land searching for uranium for atomic weapons. Later, when Cold War tensions reduce, the companies will leave, abandoning 500 mines and leaving Native miners with high cancer rates.
1945: The War Brides Act permits immigration of 100,000 Asian spouses and children of American servicemen. Latino families sue Orange County school districts. Although officials claim that Latino students are dirty and infected with diseases that put white students at risk, the case ends with California banning school segregation and provides a precedent for the 1954 Supreme Court Decision.
1945-1959: Operation Paperclip, administered by American intelligence agencies, admits 1,600 German scientists, including many Nazis. The first group lives in El Paso, Texas and their children attend far better schools than local Mexican American children.
1946: Congress grants naturalization rights and small immigration quotas to Asian Indians and Filipinos. The Japanese Latin Americans who had been held in the camps attempt to return to their home countries, which deport half of them to Japan. While polls show that Jews are still seen as a greater threat than any other ethnic group and Congress remains intransigent, President Harry Truman allows 23,000 Jews to enter the country by executive order. Five white men are freed in a Mississippi lynching case, despite a confession. Congress creates the Indian Claims Commission to hear tribal grievances. The last mass lynching occurs in Georgia.
1946-1951: Congress institutes minimum prison sentences for drug convictions with a mandatory minimum of two years for first-time offenders.
1947: The postwar housing boom almost entirely excludes people of color. Veterans’ Administration loopholes allow banks to refuse loans to Blacks. Consequently, only two of 3,200 VA-guaranteed home loans in 13 Mississippi cities go to Blacks. In New York and northern New Jersey, fewer than 100 of 67,000 mortgages support purchases by non-whites. Northern universities delay admitting Black students, while Southern colleges bar them entirely. Fully 95% of Black veterans are shunted off to underfunded, often unaccredited Black colleges that must turn away thousands. Realtors in Chicago manipulate white anxiety through “blockbusting”, deceiving whites into believing that blacks are moving into their neighborhood. They convince whites to quickly sell at a loss, before property values decline. Realtors then sell to middle-class blacks at a premium. Crowds attack Black veterans as they move into Chicago housing developments. Major League Baseball de-segregates.
1948: The Displaced Persons Act purports to admit 200,000 European refugees who have reached certain safe zones in Germany by certain dates. However, it deliberately discriminates against some 250,000 Jews who manage to enter Germany only after postwar pogroms in Poland. The act also adds a list of financial, occupational, and good conduct restrictions. It uses the same device to block the entry of many Catholics from communist countries, who made up 70% of the refugees. The law also stipulates that 40% of those admitted must come from the Soviet annexed countries of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belorussia, and Ukraine, and that 30% must be farmers. This further discriminates against Jews, who couldn’t own land, and favored Ukrainians and Belarussians, who could. It also reserves 50,000 slots for Volksdeutsche, descendants of German settlers in Eastern Europe, thousands of whom had collaborated with the Nazi SS. Although the bill blocks the entry of communists, it deliberately neglects to make Nazis and collaborators ineligible for U.S. visas, unless they had already been convicted of war crimes.
Truman integrates the Armed Forces and is the first president to address the NCAAP. He mandates the end of employment discrimination in the federal government, reaffirming FDR’s earlier order. The Supreme Court rules that housing covenants are unenforceable, if not illegal. Developers respond by recording hundreds of thousands of new covenants to restrict minority buyers, including in the new suburb of Lakewood, CA, which by 1960 will have 67,000 residents, seven of them Black. Senator Eastland of Mississippi blocks another anti-lynching bill. Georgia executes a black woman for killing an armed white man in self-defense.
1948-1960: HUAC engages in a reign of terror that demonizes much political activity and speech as “un-American.” The FBI investigates thousands of citizens, resulting in hundreds fired from government and academia, many suicides and the Hollywood blacklist.
1948-1973: The CIA’s secret MKULTRA program administers hallucinogenic drugs on hundreds of unwitting prisoners, disproportionately Black.
1949: Following the Chinese Revolution, the government grants refugee status to 5,000 anti-communist Chinese. Whites riot in Peekskill, N.Y. following a concert by Paul Robeson. The Fairness Doctrine requires broadcasters to air contrasting views on controversial matters of public interest.
1949-1974: Urban renewal policies enable local officials to clear out entire Black neighborhoods. In 1,200 projects, federal subsidies go to over 400 cities, displacing 300,000 families, or 1.2 million people. Over 550 urban square miles are razed. Blacks (13% of the population in 1960) comprise at least 55% of those displaced. New York City’s Lincoln Center displaces 4,000 families, mostly Puerto Ricans.