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Shades of Earth: History
An 14-paged Shades of Earth: History preview can be downloaded at the end of this page. The following text and illustrations are only a small example.
General Cultural Notes
The culture of the 1930s was quite different from the culture of today. Different values were held and different prejudices exhibited. This does not mean that we still maintain these prejudices today, but to run a game in this time line players must deal with them.
Many of the views presented in this section are generalizations. Characters may or may not hold these views, but it must be acknowledged that they exist in this period of world history.
In the 1930s, before the time of the Civil Rights movement, black people were treated poorly to say the least. Segregation was often the answer under the incorrect idea that black and white people would have separate but equal facilities. This was at the more liberal end of the spectrum. In practice, African- Americans were treated as second class citizens lucky to receive the scraps from the white American’s table. This is not to say that they did not have opportunities, but they took risks and had to work much harder to have the same privileges that white people took for granted. A black doctor would be able to make a living but only treating black patients. For that matter, to become a black doctor was rare, due to all the prejudice that one would face in concern of one’s skin color.
The state of racism was far worse in the south of the United States than in the north. The Klu Klux Klan (KKK) had a growing amount of power in the south and was reaching out across the U.S. and into the government. In 1920, Warren Harding was elected president of the United States. He was a card carrying KKK member. He did not condone the violence that was to come, though he continued his membership until his death in 1923.
The KKK was likened to many of the fascist states arising between the World Wars in its tactics and recruiting methods. Many Americans joined the Klan for different reasons. Some joined due to fear of the race riots of a dissatisfied black populace, more joined to be a part of a larger club that enforced dominance over a segment of the population. For whatever reasons, it must be acknowledged that the KKK played a major role in the suppression of non- Christian/ African-Americans in the United States.
In other parts of the world, people of color were treated differently. This does not mean they were treated well, but they often received rights and opportunities that African-Americans did not.
The “Negro Renaissance”
The Negro Renaissance was a period in the 1920s when African American writers and artists gave voice to many of the injustices they had suffered before World War I and after returning. This began to break down many of the stereotypes and ignorance of the other cultural groups of the U.S. towards the Black culture. It also was an expression of a returned self pride and reliance which had been stripped from many African- Americans of the time. Amongst the darkness of racism, the Negro Renaissance was a shining light.
National Assoc. for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
This organization was formed in 1909 by Mary White Orvington and William English Walling (both white socialists) in response to racial injustices being inflicted on blacks in the North. They published their own magazine called “Crisis” in 1910 and by 1919 they were circulating 100,000 copies. This organization did much to promote the rights of African-Americans. It came to odds with the UNIA (see below) in its approach for being too moderate.
Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)
The UNIA was founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914 in Jamaica. When he came to the U.S. in 1916, he toured the country to take stock. In 1917 he formed the first American branch of the UNIA and began publishing the Negro World, a journal that promoted his African Nationalist ideas. In 1919, Garvey formed the Black Star Line to ship trade goods produced by black owned American companies to Caribbean and African buyers. The Company made two successful trips before it ran out of money. This was enough to let Marcus Garvey help restore the pride of black people everywhere. After the failure of the Black Star Line in 1922, the UNIA formed the Black Cross Navigation and Trade Co. In 1925 Garvey was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 5 years in prison. After half of the sentence had been served, President Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence. He was then deported in 1927 and never returned to the United States. The UNIA lost a great deal of its membership but survives to this day.
The UNIA was one of the most militant of African American groups of this period due in large part to the times and to its charismatic leader. It was a world wide organization meant to build pride of the black person and it did just that. Many experts today cite Marcus Garvey and the UNIA as one of the pivotal turning points in black people’s struggle for self-realization and black cultural pride.
Women of this period were treated differently depending on the nation they were in. In the Spanish Civil War, women fought alongside men in the Loyalist army. For that matter, in Spain, after King Alfonso vacated the throne, women attended college, held meaningful positions in various professions and were able to vote as they saw fit. In the United States, women received the right to vote in 1920, but the social change was long in coming. Their right to vote assured by the 19th amendment did little to assure that they were not discriminated against. In much of the world, necessity drove the acceptance of women into the traditionally man’s world. The 1920s China had a communist movement which welcomed women as fighters for the people’s cause. Often women would be fighting side-byside with their male counterparts. The 1920s and 30s were decades of change.
In primitive societies, the role of women and men are often defined by tradition and reinforced by tribal law. This was still true in the 20s and 30s in places like the South Pacific, areas of Africa and South America. Much of the world still had untouched and primitive societies working within their traditions. These societies often had both a more primitive, sometimes harsh, view of a woman’s role.
Immigrants to the United States were treated as cheap labor in a number of cases. The Caribbean Islands supplied a number of black immigrants who fled oppressive governments and poor living conditions. There were also a number of Jewish and German immigrants. While these people usually brought serviceable skills, they were still persecuted for the actions of their native country. The next largest group of immigrants were the Italians and specifically the Sicilians fleeing the hunt for mafia members and the bloodshed that resulted. In all cases, one of the highest hopes of the immigrants was to come to the ‘land of opportunity’ and build a new more prosperous life. Out of these immigrations came a number of organizations to help and aid immigrants. The Jewish people had an organization and support network with their religion. The Italians often looked to the Mafia while Germans looked to their churches for support. Many of the European immigrants left their homelands due to the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War.
In the age of nationalism and social revolution as outlined in the dogma of Trotsky and Lenin, class became an important issue. The Harding Administration had shown itself to be corrupt at the highest level and that corruption could be directly linked to the wealthy. The wealthy, on the other hand, saw the 20s as a time of opportunity until the Depression started in 1929. Then it became a crusade to guard their remaining fortunes until the storm was over. The storm, though, would last for ten years. In this time, many of the wealthy treated the common U.S. workers as little more than animals. Labor unions gained support again after getting lax in the prosperous 20s. In many countries, like Spain, Russia and Bolivia, these class tactics erupted in violence.
Social revolution walked hand in hand with political revolution when the world seemed to be turning red. During this time, called the Red Scare, communists were seen behind every curtain and in every doorway. Many kings and dictators had real fears since they often represented the essence of the upper class. Strangely enough, it was not always the lowest of the social class, the peasant, that was swayed by the communists. It was often the case that the middle class intellectual was recruited. That is not to say that the peasant did not fight, but it was often with a political officer urging him on.
Class strife also took less violent forms in that not much association was common between the different classes. The middle class would look down on a waiter, those with servants were condescending to those without, etc. Strangely enough, the “lower class” individual just accepted this as the natural way of things. This was particularly rampant in the African-American population and one of the reasons that such organizations as the NAACP were formed.
Isolationism in the U. S.
The U.S. has always harbored a strong isolationist attitude, but the period from 1900 – 1940 was one of the high points of this sentiment. President Wilson delayed U.S. involvement in WWI with the argument that it was a European affair and the U.S. had no reason to involve itself. A very similar argument would keep the U.S. out of WWII until directly attacked by the Japanese.The reasons for this isolationism are complex and varied. The U.S. was in the depths of the Depression when it passed the Neutrality Act, which stated it would neither involve U.S. forces nor ship material to any of the belligerents in Europe. The Neutrality Act was amended in 1936 and 1937 to disallow the loaning of money and the extension of the Act to cover civil wars (a reaction to the Spanish Civil War). However, in 1939 it would be revised again to allow a “cash-and-carry” policy for warring nations to purchase armaments.
As one can see, the U.S. went to great lengths to rationalize their neutrality and isolationism. Many of the American citizens felt it had been a mistake to enter WWI, and many of those people were veterans. This made the mood of the 1930s towards the European wars as one of apathy mixed with a greater concern for the troubles at home.
Prejudice against the Jewish people extended to many parts of the world. In Europe, they were persecuted as hoarders of wealth and even to the point of being called a cult. The U.S, while having no official laws against Jews, had a strong cultural bias towards Christianity. Often this set them on the path of fearing that which was different. Violence was not common but discrimination and slurs were.
Germany’s programs to systematically destroy the Jewish people are well known. They started in 1933 at Dachau and were to become one of mankinds lowest moments.
Throughout the world a wave of nationalism was set off when the Russian Communists won their revolution in 1917. Much of the world lived in a state of poverty and were literally owned by a noble or so linked to the land as to be effectively owned. The idea of communism, where the workers owned their own land, spoke to the common people. With the success in Russia, the peasant could now hope to have something more. Few nobles could anticipate the chain reaction which would sweep through the nations of the world like a wildfire. The belief in a Trotsky “World Social Revolution” was difficult for them to imagine. Even more difficult was the thought that a Leninist socialist revolution within a country could have support, much less any success. However, communism changed the way virtually every European country treated its workers, even if the party failed to gain political prominence.