The Progressive Era was a time of social crusades and political reform in the United States that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. The era was known for widespread social activism that ushered in women’s rights, income tax, anti-trust laws, educational reform and prohibition. While the era advanced many important reforms, improved race relations would not be one of them.
Possibly no group in America during this time felt the pains of exclusion and discrimination more than those of African heritage, many who were only one or two generations removed from slavery. The Progressive Era was not very enlightened for African Americans who faced a host of social, economic, and political challenges, particularly in the South where “Jim Crow” was a way of life. And with the release of the movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” in 1915, racial tensions in America were at a boiling point.
During the Progressive Era, many of America’s elite families converged on Newport, Rhode Island making it the leading summer resort along with hosting one of the countries largest Navy and Army military installations. African Americans, many recently migrated from the rural south, would seize the resulting employment opportunities to provide the catalyst for their advancement into working and middle class status. (Learn more about African American life in Newport here)
One of the major events during the Progressive Era is the Spanish-American War (1898) which led to the second major American expansionism period with the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, Hawaii, and temporary control of Cuba. These new immigrants would be introduced to an America that most often viewed nonwhites as less than equal. These post war populations would be followed by 15 million immigrants largely from Europe who would arrive to America between the end of the Spanish American War and beginning of WWI (1900-1915). The outbreak of WWI had the opportunity to unify all of America under the motto from the great Seal of the United States, “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of Many, One.”