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82 4 “Unholy and Unchristian Attitude” Interracial Dialogue in Segregated Spaces, 1920–1937 The suffrage campaign had mobilized women, but when it came to race matters white and black New Jersey women faced real trouble. The commonality they had found in temperance and suffrage began to crack at its apogee. White New Jersey simply would not address racial discrimination as it grew in the 1920s. Jim Crow had gained more than a foothold in the North. Post–World War I America was riven by labor unrest, racial violence, and social dislocations. The national landscape had changed dramatically . The economy shifted from agricultural production to industrial consumption and the migration of black and white citizens changed the geography from rural to urban. Race and labor riots in the North rivaled the mob violence and lynchings that had long characterized the South. Violent attacks against soldiers still in uniform and women and children in their homes and churches increased. As mainline denominations stood silent, the limits of American Protestantism were all too clear. W. E. B. Du Bois, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founder and editor of the Crisis magazine, sounded the battle cry of a New Negro post-war militancy: “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.”1 Democracy abroad demanded democracy at home. Violet Johnson and Florence Randolph prepared for a “glorious” fight against the unchristian acts that ranged from discrimination in housing, employment, and education to mob violence, lynching, and abuse of women. “[I]n the great task of reconstruction before the nation, Negro women have their greatest opportunity, the chance not only to serve but to save America in this crucial hour,” Randolph averred.2 African Americans had earned the right to full citizenship and protection from “Humiliation, Discrimination, Brutality and Crime against our race.”3 “Unholy and Unchristian Attitude” | 83 Randolph and Johnson amassed their own arsenal of democracy. No longer fighting a “southern problem,” northern black women’s language became more demanding and their remedies more varied as they sought to defend social and political gains against a rising tide of white supremacy . They combined direct political action with moral appeals to the American conscience. They demanded government intervention to end mob violence and declare lynching a federal crime. They tried to engage white club women in the Anti-Lynching Crusade and to ally with white church women in the interracial movement. Both the secular and religious attempts at a united womanhood withered under the white heat of American racism. White club women wrapped themselves in class privilege, and white church women lacked power. Amid shifting constructions of race, gender, and citizenship, the discourse on civilization clashed head-on with black women’s vision of civic righteousness. Black women’s fight for just laws and moral institutions exposed cleavages in the woman’s movement. They lost white women as allies just as southern black women began to build interracial ties with white women’s organizations. Despite their best efforts, these Christian activists could not stem the rise of the Ku Klux Klan or the segregation sweeping into civic and religious spaces in the 1920s and 1930s. Class and color politics, a colorcoded economic structure, rising property values, and the devastation of the Great Depression eroded the slim gains they had made. Even as economic and social discrimination solidified and race relations deteriorated , black working women remained committed to a vision of community based upon Christian principles and the indivisibility of race and gender—and class. They turned segregated spaces into sites of resistance and socialized a new generation of women as Christian activists. United Womanhood: Suffrage and the Anti-Lynching Crusade The “Red Summer” of 1919 removed any doubt as to the state of race relations. The end of war in Europe had not resulted in peace at home. From April to October approximately twenty-six race riots erupted in the country, including one in the nation’s capital. Many northerners considered riots a southern problem, until the weeklong Chicago riot in late July resulted in thirty-eight deaths.4 84 | “Unholy and Unchristian Attitude” Violet Johnson responded with righteous anger. As chairwoman of the State Federation’s Anti-Lynching Department, she “respectfully ask[ed]” Woodrow Wilson, “president of a country in which colored men, as well as white men, have laid down their lives for the principles of freedom,” to convene and “personally preside” over a conference to address the “race differences which have now become appalling” and...


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