Civil Rights Near the Turn of the Century

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How did the Progressive movement affect minorities?

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When looking at how the Progressive Movement affected minorities, specifically African Americans, there are two aspects to consider.

If we evaluate the Progressive Movement regarding how it dealt with the issue of racial inequality that African Americans were facing, then it was very ineffective in helping them. African Americans faced...

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When looking at how the Progressive Movement affected minorities, specifically African Americans, there are two aspects to consider.

If we evaluate the Progressive Movement regarding how it dealt with the issue of racial inequality that African Americans were facing, then it was very ineffective in helping them. African Americans faced discrimination, segregation, and harassment before and during the Progressive Era. There were no major laws passed to bring these conditions to an end. African Americans still faced segregation in public transportation, in schools, and in public facilities such as bathrooms. There was nothing done to end the voting restrictions that African Americans faced, such as the poll tax and the literacy test. Even though there were many political reforms that occurred during the Progressive Era, none of these reforms addressed these restrictions that prevented many African Americans from voting. While there was some attention drawn to the issue of lynching with articles and editorials being published about it, there wasn’t much change in the unequal conditions that African Americans faced on a daily basis.

If we evaluate the Progressive Movement regarding how it impacted people as a whole, and therefore including African Americans, there would be some positive impacts. For example, there were consumer laws that were passed that positively impacted all consumers. The Meat Inspection Act called for the federal government to inspect the meat that was being sold. The Pure Food and Drug Act made it illegal to falsely label food and medicine. These laws positively impacted all consumers, including African Americans. When President Roosevelt and President Taft broke up big businesses that weren’t acting in the best interests of the public, many Americans benefitted from these actions. Thus, some of the changes made during the Progressive Era positively impacted African Americans because these actions helped almost all groups of people in the United States.

Overall, however, many of the issues that African Americans faced as a group of people weren’t addressed during the Progressive Movement.

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The Progressive movement did very little to help minorities.  The Progressives were interested in promoting the interests of middle class America, but their vision of middle class America was largely centered on whites.  This was due in part to the fact that Progressivism was mainly a Northern phenomenon whereas most minorities were living in the South at this time.

There were two major issues for African Americans (the main minority in the country at the time) during the Progressive era.  These were lynching and segregation.  Neither of these was a serious target of the Progressives.  The Progressives did nothing as Southern states made their system of segregation and racial discrimination more institutionalized and pervasive.  It is worth remembering that Plessy v. Ferguson only made segregation legal for the first time in 1896, a few years before what is seen as the start of the Progressive era.  Clearly, then, segregation and discrimination were being built up systematically in the South during the Progressive era.

There was somewhat more attention paid to lynching.  However, it was mainly due to African Americans such as Ida B. Wells, not any action by the Progressives.  No anti-lynching bills were passed by Congress during the Progressive era. 

For these reasons, it is very difficult to point to any good that minorities gained from the Progressive era.

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