11 Cultural Changes of the 1920s

Prompt: Discuss the cultural changes
that occurred in the 1920s. (e.g.
Harlem Renaissance - writers/
performers/ musicians, jazz,
Prohibition- organized crime/ Al
Capone/ speakeasies/ bootleggers,
flappers, sports, cinema, radio, etc.)
Between 1922 and 1929,
migration to cities
accelerated with nearly 2
million people leaving farms
each year.
America was once
dominated by a small towns
and farms bound together by
conservative moral values
and close social
But as migration to cities
increased, small-town
attitudes began to lose their
hold on the American
January 1920: 18th Amendment
went into effect.
This amendment launched the era
known as Prohibition, during
which the manufacture, sale, and
transportation of alcoholic
beverages were legally prohibited
Reformers had long considered
liquor a prime cause of
Support for Prohibition came
largely from
• the rural South and West,
• the church affiliated Anti-Saloon
• and the Woman’s Christian
Temperance Union.
At first, saloons closed and arrests for drunkenness
declined. However, after World War I many
Americans were tired of making sacrifices and
wanted to enjoy life.
Drinking was part of the culture of many immigrant
To obtain liquor illegally,
drinkers went
underground to hidden
saloons and nightclubs
known as speakeasies- so
called because when
inside, one spoke quietly,
or “easily” to avoid
People also bought liquor
from bootleggers, people
who carried liquor in the
legs of boots and
smuggled it in from
Canada, Cuba, and the
West Indies.
Prohibition encouraged
disrespect for the law as well as
contributed to organized crime.
Chicago became notorious as the
home of Al Capone, a gangster
whose bootlegging empire
netted over $60 million a year.
Capone took control of the
Chicago liquor business by using
bribes and killing off his
Headlines in the 1920s reported
522 bloody gang killings and
made the image of flashy Al
Capone a part of the folklore of
the period.
Went to jail for tax evasion…uhh
A new ideal emerged for
some women in the 20s:
the flapper, an
emancipated young
woman who embraced the
new fashions and urban
attitudes of the day
Women start shedding
tradition roles in the home
and work
New opportunities
The most powerful
communications medium to
merge in the 20s was the
By the end of the decade, the
radio networks had created
something new in the United
States- the shared national
experience of hearing the
news as it happened
Americans could hear the
voice of their President or
the World Series live for
In 1929, Americans spent
$4.5 billion on entertainment
One form of entertainment
was attending athletic
stadiums to see sports stars
who were glorified as
superheroes by the mass
• Babe Ruth (baseball)
• Helen Wills (tennis)
• Andrew “Rube” Foster
• Gertude Ederle (swimming)
Small production companies soon
combined to form giant
industries that produced
hundreds of films, making movies
rival sports, music, and reading as
the top-grossing forms of
American entertainment
Both middle-class and workingclass Americans sought leisure in
theaters for 10-75 cents per
Americans saw the cinema as a
way to escape the tragedies of
the post-war recession and
worshipped movie stars and
modeled their personal lives after
onscreen heroes.
Like many other urban
neighborhoods, Harlem
suffered from overcrowding,
unemployment, and poverty.
But its problems in the 1920s
were eclipsed by a flowering
of creativity called the
Harlem Renaissance, a
literary and artistic
movement celebrating
African-American culture.
The H.R. was above all a literary
movement led by well-educated,
middle-class African Americans
who expressed a new pride in the
African-American experience.
They celebrated their heritage and
wrote with defiance about the trials
of being black in a white world
Alain Locke published The New
Negro, a landmark collection of
literary works by many promising
young African American writers
Other examples:
• Claude McKay (novelist/poet)
• Langston Hughes (movement’s best
known poet)
• Zora Neale (novelist, author, poet)
African-Americans in the performing
arts won large following.
Some thought that the H.R. movement
was launched with Shuffle Along, a black
musical comedy
Some songs and performances became
popular even among white audiences
The spirit and talent of AfricanAmericans was showcased for the first
time on stages
Paul Robeson: became a major actor
and appeared in Shakespeare’s Othello
and was widely acclaimed
Like many African-Americans, however,
he struggled with the racisms he
experienced in the United States
Jazz was born in the early 20th century in
New Orleans, where musicians blended
instrumental ragtime and vocal blues into
an exuberant new sound.
Jazz quickly spread to cities such as
Kansas City, Memphis, and New York City,
and became the most popular music for
Examples of African-American artists:
• Famous for his astounding sense of rhythm and
his ability to improvise, Louis Armstrong made
personal expression a key part of jazz.
• Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, a jazz pianist
and composer, led his ten-piece orchestra at the
Cotton Club
• Bessie Smith, a female blues singer, was perhaps
the most outstanding vocalist of the decade,
recorded on black-oriented labels and became
the highest-paid black artist in the world.