Here we are in the 20s again, not the roaring 20s, but the 2020s. Have you ever wondered how life was different for African Americans in the 1920s?
If you were an African-American in the 1920s, you might have ridden on the back of the bus and in the colored car of the train, but you also might have danced to the Charleston, listened to poets like Langston Hughes in Harlem or heard Bessie Smith sing at a Speakeasy.
- The 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote was passed on August 18, 1920. African American men technically were given the right to vote through the 15th amendment, but, both black men and black women were routinely denied the right to vote throughout the south through policies that were designed to suppress the black vote. The KKK and other racial terror groups sometimes threatened African Americans who tried to register to vote.
- In 1927, advocates argued against a policy in Texas, which aimed to keep African Americans from voting in the primary elections. This case became known as Nixon v. Herndon and was struck down by the supreme court.
- Even though Black women, like Ida Wells, had demonstrated leadership in the suffrage movement, many African American women did not benefit from the passage of the 19th amendment in the same way as white women. Learn more here.
- The Great Migration: After WWI, African Americans faced an upsurge in racial violence and terror. Many African American WWI veterans faced harassment and, in some cases, lynch mobs. This violence spurred many African Americans to begin to move to the Northern states where they could escape the Jim Crow segregationist policies of the south and begin life anew. This time period from 1920 to 1940 became known as the First Wave of the Great Migration. Learn more here.
- African Americans and white allies advocated for an end to the lynching in the south and in 1922, the US House of Representatives passed an anti-lynching bill, but the bill failed in the senate. President Harding condemned the lynching of African Americans in the south in 1920. Learn more here.
- In 1923, a Senator from Mississippi worked with the United Daughters of the Confederacy to commission a statue of a black “Mammy,” figure which would sit on the National Mall. While African Americans were dying in the South from lynching mobs, the fictional Mammy was being promoted in Washington, DC. Thankfully, this statue did not come to fruition.
- Food and Drink: African American cuisine is influenced by Western and Central African, American and European cuisine. African American cuisine is often referred to as soul food. Foods such as beans, yams, poultry, black-eyed peas, fish and seafood, greens, seasonings, peanuts, and seeds were commonly eaten in western and central African cultures.
- During the middle passage, some African Americans brought their culinary traditions with them and some even snuck seeds or beans (like black-eyed peas) aboard the slave ships. African American dishes like gumbo and black-eyed peas originate in western and central African cuisine. During the 1920s when African Americans traveled to the North, they often brought their traditional southern foods with them on their journey. These dishes, which had largely been consumed in the south became more widespread. Learn more here and here.
- Prohibition: During the 1920s, alcohol was illegal. Like many other Americans, African Americans attended speakeasies, dances, and clubs that secretly sold alcohol. In cities like Harlem, speakeasies often included entertainment from African American jazz artists, dancers, and poets. Learn more here and here.
African American Flappers
- Carter G Woodson publicized the first Negro History week in 1926. This was a precursor to Black History Month.
- Quicksand, which tells the story of a mixed-race Black woman was published by Nella Larsen.
- In 1926, Langston Hughes’s book of poetry, The Weary Blues was published.
- The Charleston music and dance was popularized by the African American composer James P Johnson and often played in the clubs of Harlem and speakeasies across the country.
- “Shuffle Along,” which was created by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissy was shown on Broadway in 1921.
- The movie “Hallelujah,” starring Nina Mae Mckinney debuted.
The real miracle of the 1920s was that despite the terror that African Americans faced, they continued to build a culture through the arts, culinary traditions and to advance justice for everyone. Learn more about African Americans in the 1920s here and here.
- How Enslaved People Shaped American Cooking
- African Americans and Soul Food
- Langston Hughes
- African American Flappers and Jazz Age Women
- African Americans in 1920s
- Mammy Archetype in the United States
- The Mammy Statue
- African American Women History Timeline
- Girls in the Great Migration
- Prohibition in the United States
- Voting Rights and African Americans in the 1920s