As the 1920s began, African Americans were still endangered by race riots. There had been serious race riots in East Saint Louis and Chicago in 1917 and 1919, respectively. In 1921, an even more horrific race riot occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A black man had supposedly attacked a white woman in an elevator, and a white mob retaliated and destroyed the prosperous black community in Tulsa, killing as many as 300 people. Still another race riot occurred in 1923, in Rosewood, Florida.
One reason for many of these shocking incidents was that white residents in the North did not welcome the influx of blacks from the South. Huge numbers of blacks were moving north at this time. They wanted to escape from the repression and racism of the postbellum South and seek economic opportunities in the North.
Racism was fueled by the film, The Birth of a Nation, which was released in 1915. President Woodrow Wilson even showed the movie in the White House. The film's twisted view of the South helped revive the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK became a powerful organization, and 30,000 of its members marched through Washington in 1925. In such a hostile climate, it was extremely difficult for blacks to achieve progress during the 1920s.
There were glimmers of hope for African Americans during the 1920s, though. For instance, there was the Harlem Renaissance, which was a celebration of black culture. African American intellectuals and jazz musicians were proud of their cultural heritage and achievements, and they hoped their expression of it would improve blacks' lives.
Most blacks were unaffected by the creativity of a few African Americans, and the overwhelming majority lived in abject poverty. Many disillusioned blacks supported the ideas of firebrand Marcus Garvey.
In general, the twenties were not a prosperous or peaceful time for most African Americans.