This chapter follows the new social attitudes and cultural changes that defined the 1920s.
Section 1 explains how the 1920s saw clashes between Americans' traditional and modern values. In the early 1920s, economic recession, increased immigration, and racial and cultural tensions led to a general rise in nativism and racism. A pseudo-scientific belief reinforced nativism, and a new Ku Klux Klan targeted groups it considered "un-American." Many Americans who worried that immigration would threaten traditional social orders applauded new laws that limited immigration and heavily discriminated against certain groups. Other societal changes swept through the nation during the 1920s. A new morality glorified youth and personal freedom, and women enjoyed new economic, social, and intellectual freedoms that were reflected in their fashions and behaviors. As Americans responded to what some saw as a decline of American morality, a new religious movement emerged, and interest in the temperance movement renewed. The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act made prohibition a federal cause, but public response to the laws ended up encouraging organized crime.
Section 2 describes how the modern age of the 1920s strongly influenced American art, literature, and popular culture. During the 1920s, writers, artists, and intellectuals challenged traditional ideas as they searched for meaning in an industrialized world. Artists worked in a diverse range of styles, each trying to express the individual, modern experience. The works of many poets, playwrights, and novelists often had tragic underpinnings as they described the human experience with concise, realistic images. The 1920s offered many Americans more time and money to enjoy leisure activities. They eagerly attended movies and sporting events, participated in sports, and listened to radio broadcasts. Sports figures, movie stars, and aviators emerged as the new American heroes. During the 1920s, mass media not only helped broaden Americans' interests, but they also enhanced Americans' feelings of a shared national culture.
Section 3 discusses how the African American voice found new expressions during the cultural renaissance of the 1920s. During the Great Migration, hundreds of thousands of African Americans escaped segregated Southern society and poured into the industrial cities of the North. One neighborhood in New York City stood out as the center of African American cultural rebirth and expression. The artists of the Harlem Renaissance expressed their frustrations and their dreams in an explosion of literary, musical, and theatrical works. Artistic achievements of the Harlem Renaissance reinforced racial pride and fueled interest in community and political involvement. African Americans found a political voice with the vote and in organizations such as the NAACP. While some worked to improve the political and economic positions of African Americans, other groups emphasized black pride and advocated African American separation from white society.