The Roaring 1920s Cultural and Social Changes

The Great Migration

The Great Migration is the migration of 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities in the North and West from 1916 to 1970. During 1910 to 1940 alone, about 1.5 Million African Americans migrated north. African Americans headed North to look for jobs in cities and because of segregation laws in the South. There were unfair economic opportunities in the south such as sharecropping and tenant farming.

The Great Migration lead to the Harlem Renaissance which was a large production of African American literature, art, and theater in the 1920s. This movement increased competition among poor and immigrants for jobs because of the influx of poor African Americans. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) arose to fight for African American civil rights. Anti black violence occurred in Northern cities just like in the South with groups like the KKK. One example would be the 1919 Chicago Race Riot.

Harlem Renaissance

After the Civil War, African Americans slowly migrated North. By 1930, almost 20% of the entire black population had moved North. Blacks moved up North because they faced less severe discrimination. Many African Americans settled in Harlem in New York City and became the largest black community. Harlem grew to a population of 200,000 and became famous for being full of talent. Many famous writers, actors, and musicians were from Harlem.


As a form of rebellion, the youth indulged in jazz music. Jazz originated in the North and has roots in the African American culture. With new inventions such as the radio, jazz music became more widely known and spread fast. Within the first ten years of the invention of the radio, there were over 800 stations broadcasting to ten million radios.

New Literature

Reading was popular in the 1920s as more and more people became literate. The overly formal styles associated with Victorianism were replaced with a more direct, democratic style. Before the radio and the television, people got their facts from reading - be it magazines, newspapers, or books. In literary circles, disillusionment following World War I caused some writers to focus on the horror and futility of war. Other common themes in 1920s literature included sexuality and the human capacity to seek pleasure and happiness.

Sinclair Lewis

The United States got their first Nobel Prize in 1930 with the help of Sinclair Lewis and his novel Babbit. Babbit "ridiculed Americans for their conformity and materialism."

Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald was basically the one who named the 1920s the "Jazz Age." A popular novel of his was The Great Gatsby. Another was This Side of Paradise. He spoke of the negative side of the period's "gaiety and freedom." He portrayed wealthy and attractive people leading "imperiled lives in gilded surroundings."

"I hope she'll be a fool — that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool . . . You see, I think everything's terrible anyhow . . . And I know. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything." -The Great Gatsby

Authors of the 1920s brought an "outpouring of fresh and insightful writing." This made the 1920s one of the richest eras in the country's literary history.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway, who witnessed the horrors of World War I firsthand, wrote short stories in a simplified, minimalist style. He lived an adventurous life, and he typically dealt with themes of struggle, courage and loss.

African American Writers

The Harlem Renaissance produced its own slew of African-American writers. Among the most well-known was novelist and poet, Langston Hughes. Other well-known writers include Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois. These authors revealed the richness of African American Culture.

Art and Architecture

Art Deco style of architecture captured the modernist simplification form while using machine age materials and examples of that would be the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in New York. Art Deco usually featured bold geometric shapes, vibrant coloring, and oversized lettering. It originated in Europe and spread to North America.

Expressionalism and Surrealism were also popular art movements that originated in Europe in the 1920s. Many artists were inspired by the architecture of American cities and how they would portray the loneliness and isolation of urban life in their works. Georgia O’Keeffe, a famous painter, began to be popular in the 1920s for her depictions of abstract nature scenes.

Photography was also emerging as a modern art form with famous photographers such as Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz.

Works Cited

Anirudh. "10 Most Famous Paintings By Georgia O’Keeffe." Learnodo Newtonic, 19 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Inspirational Designs." Obviously - Community Contributed Guides. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

Scott, Robert. "1920s Art." 1920s Art. Robert Scott, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Sullivan, Nate. "American Art, Pop Culture & Literature of the 1920s.", n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

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