Go to the Digital Library top page!

Social Studies

Click here to go to Great Migration introduction

Lecture Menu > The Great Migration

9. Race and Industry in the Early 20th Century

In the early twentieth century, what industrial players did was they hired according to what might sort of cynically describe as a very sophisticated theory of race, one that presumes that each race had particular aptitudes. And when people talked about race in 1910, Slavs were a race, Poles were a race, Jews were a race, Italians were a race; people that we think of as nationalities were all called races. In fact, there's a wonderful volume that was produced by the United States Immigration Commission in 1910 or 1911 which went race by race to describe their various characteristics. It's basically an encyclopedia of American racist, racial ideology for the period. And characteristics are ascribed to each one: "these people are good at that, those people are good at this." And each of these races had to find employment according to conventional stereotypes. Who was good at heavy work, who had dexterity, who could handle machinery, etc., etc.

And by this taxonomy what happened was that Eastern and Southern Europeans were relegated to the heaviest, the dirtiest, the lowest-paying, and the most insecure jobs because these were the things that people assumed they were best at.

African Americans were virtually excluded. Negro character, which was a term that was frequently used, steel managers read in the Iron Trade Review for example, made for poor industrial workers. Blacks were "lazy," "unreliable," "slow," they couldn't be trusted to handle machinery, they wouldn't show up for work on time, or, as the New Republic put it in 1915, or so, "the Negro gets a chance to work only when there is no one else."

«previous 9 of 30 next »

Need help searching?
Search help

Search eCUIP:

Examples: or
Contact eCUIP!

Need help?

Return to the eCUIP top page!