1919: the year that changed America

This year marks the centennial of a momentous year in world and American history.

As we head into the last month of the year, I’ve been thinking about all the centennial anniversaries that were marked in 2019. The Great Migration of African Americans out of the agrarian South and into the industrial North began in 1919. World War I veterans returned home to communities—including Omaha, Charleston, Chicago—that would be shook by race riots. The artistic and cultural explosion that would become known as the Harlem Renaissance began that year. Oakland Tribune columnist Delilah Beasley published her monumental history of African Americans, “The Negro Trail-Blazers of California” in 1919. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was approved by Congress.

These events and many others significantly changed our society. They were influenced, among other things, by

  • the Progressive Movement that called for social reforms in the workplace;
  • the labor movement that looked beyond capitalism to create a more equitable society;
  • the early civil rights movement that fostered the founding of organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP);
  • the rise of America’s political and economic influence in the world;
  • advancements in science; and 
  • women’s activism. These movements would mark the century as one of our country’s most progressive and challenging.

If you would like to learn more about the political and social mood of the country during this momentous year, check out some of these books:

Paris 1919: six months that changed the world / Margaret MacMillan

The end of order, Versailles, 1919 / Charles L. Mee, Jr.

From race riot to sit-in, 1919 and the 1960s; a study in the connections between conflict and violence / by Arthur I. Waskow

Red summer: the summer of 1919 and the awakening of Black America / Cameron McWhirter

No shadow of a doubt: the 1919 eclipse that confirmed Einstein's theory of relativity / Daniel Kennefick

On the laps of gods: the Red Summer of 1919 and the struggle for justice that remade a nation / Robert Whitaker

The world on fire: 1919 and the battle with Bolshevism / Anthony Read

Burying the Black Sox: how baseball's cover-up of the 1919 World Series fix almost succeeded / Gene Carney

Savage peace: hope and fear in America, 1919 / Ann Hagedorn