the challenges of 1890

This is a written assignment that requires you to write a 1-pg. (double-spaced) summary and analysis of the week’s material. Explain what you found most interesting and why. Tie any videos/podcasts/websites/readings to the lectures for the week. And answer 2-3 of the guiding questions I provide in the module. Overall, these 1-pg. papers should demonstrate you completed the module and tell me what you learned
Module Map: The Challenges of the 1890s

This module has nine parts. Please make sure you complete all nine sections before attempting the weekly quiz. You will find a link to the quiz at the bottom of the page.

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Part 1

The 1890s were critical years in the development of modern America. It was during that decade that three major crises came to a head and, ultimately, were resolved (at least for the time being). How these crises were resolved shaped the course of the 20th century. First, in some places throughout the South African Americans were exhibiting remarkable economic, political, and social success. They created thriving communities with black-run businesses, black-run schools, and even black-run local governments. For many white southerners, still embittered by their loss in the Civil War, the sight of rising African American expectations and success was too much. They set about to reinforce the color line between whites and blacks, all in the name of upholding white supremacy.

Second, industrial workers throughout the nation had, since the 1870s, been joining various labor organizations (unions) in an attempt to gain some leverage with their employers. Increasingly, working-class Americans questioned the prerogatives of their employers to amass greater and greater wealth for themselves, while they starved. By the 1890s, their challenges to big business had come to a head. Similarly, farmers had had enough with the business owners who dictated their economic well-being (or lack thereof). And like their peers in factories throughout the nation, they tried to join forces against the banks and other lenders (and, in the South, landowners). By the 1890s, however, they had gotten nowhere. By forming a nationwide political movement–The People’s Party–they sought to use the American political system to force the kind of changes that would level the playing field for themselves and the industrial working-class.

Finally, during the 1890s Americans came face-to-face with American imperialism. Some people argued that the nation should expand its borders, either through purchases or outright military defeat, while others were adamantly against the nation becoming an empire. How, they asked, could a nation founded on the ideals of anti-imperialism become imperialist itself? By 1898, these debates helped shape the course of American empire.


1895 theatrical poster for a play, “The War of Wealth,” depicting a bank run during the economic depression of 1893.


To get you started, listen to my lecture, “Reinforcing the Color Line” (34 mins), Click here: Reinforcing the Color Line.pptx

(Links to an external site.)


Part 2

Now read an online article by historian Pippa Holloway. This piece was published in an online magazine published by Ohio State University, called Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective. The purpose of the magazine is to historicize current events by placing them in historical context and explaining the longer history of whatever is being discussed. Here, Holloway explains the historical origins and evolution of efforts to disenfranchise African Americans, particularly in the South, by disqualifying certain criminals from voting in U.S. elections. As you viewed two weeks ago in Slavery by Another Name, criminalizing African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War was one of the key ways southern whites attempted to maintain social, political, and economic control. This article explains the further consequences of those actions. As you read, think about the following questions:

How has felon disenfranchisement changed over time, from its origins in the Reconstruction era to the present day?
Many of the laws that disenfranchise certain classes of criminals affect everyone, not just African Americans. Why do they seem to impact African Americans disproportionately?


Pippa Holloway, “A History of Stolen Citizenship,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, Click here:
(Links to an external site.)


Part 3

How did debt peonage and convict labor operate into the 20th century? Controlling black labor remained an essential part of the South’s economy, whether it was through sharecropping, tenant farming, or enslavement through debt peonage and convict labor. Watch the second half the film, Slavery by Another Name, to gain a fuller understanding of how these actions intersected with broader southern efforts to re-institutionalize a firm color line. As you watch, try to answer these questions:

In what ways was debt peonage similar to slavery? How was it different?
How did the federal investigation into debt peonage in the South conclude? Was anyone convicted of violating the 13th Amendment to the U.S. constitution (abolishment of slavery)?
How did African Americans challenge debt peonage and convict labor? How did they seek help when a loved one was caught up in the system?


Slavery by Another Name, (from 36:43 to the end; total 47 mins.), Click here:

*In order to access the video, you must be signed into the Marriott Library’s webpage with your U of U credentials. If the above link does not immediately take you to the login page, please make sure you are signed in by going to
(Links to an external site.)
and signing in at the top right. Click “Log In” and then scroll down to “Off Campus Access.” Once you are signed in, come back here and click on the link above.


Part 4

Warning: this section of the module contains disturbing and sometimes graphic depictions of racial violence and murder.


Segregation and disenfranchisement played a major role in reinforcing the color line for the 20th century, but racial violence was also an incredibly effective tool of white supremacy. This had been true since the Reconstruction era, when the first Ku Klux Klan was established and began its reign of racial terror throughout the South. Lynching was a central means of enacting this terror on African American communities in the South, but also throughout the nation.

Ida B. Wells was a civil rights and women’s rights activist. She played a major role in women’s suffrage organizations and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of colored People (NAACP) in 1909. She was also an excellent researcher and investigator, and she put those skills to work in her anti-lynching work (you will learn more about her on the website below). Read an excerpt from one of her pamphlets, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, published in 1892. As you read, consider the following questions:

What justifications did whites provide for lynching African Americans? Why were these justifications persuasive to other whites?
Why didn’t local police or sheriff’s offices step in to protect African Americans from lynching?
Who is the audience for this publication? How do you think they reacted to it?


Excerpt from Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, 1892, Click here: Excerpt, Ida B. Wells–Southern Horrors.docx



Murders carried out by at least three people, 1877-1950, from the Equal Justice Initiative, 2015


Now explore an interactive online module, “Monroe & Florence Work, Today” which is hosted on the website, Plain Talk History. Here you will learn what a lynching is and you will examine how the violence of lynching operated in southern society. You will also learn about Monroe and Florence Work, who, like Ida B. Wells, investigated southern lynchings in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Please be sure to complete the following:

Read the homepage. Use the arrows to scroll through the short introduction. Then scroll down a little and press the button “Start this Lesson.
Read Part I. This includes “M&F Work,” “Lynching,” and “Eight Heroes.”
Under “Lynching,” watch the short video entitled, “The Lynching of James Neely” (3 mins.). The link says “Watch Video.”
Take a look at the Map.
When you choose whether to use the “strict definition” or the “broader definition,” please read both sections first. Then choose which map you want to examine.
After you zoom in, take some time to read through some of the data points. And try answer these questions:
How does lynching differ in the South, the North, and the West?
What do the clusters represent?
Zoom in more and click on a number of green (“other”) dots. They represent white men and women. According to this dataset, for what reasons were white people lynched?


Interactive website, Monroe & Florence Work, Today, Plain Talk History, Click here:
(Links to an external site.)


Part 5

The second big crisis of the 1890s was the dissatisfaction many industrial workers experienced as a result of their labor conditions and low wages. They could see the wealth all around them, as the wealthy began to flaunt their money like never before. Yet they could barely get by and provide for their families on the wages they earned. They argued their jobs were unsafe, the work was too dangerous, their hours were long, and their wages were too low. Unions, labor organizations that represented the interests of the workers, held the potential for them to create real, meaningful changes that would improve their working conditions and wages. But employers were stridently anti-union. As more and more workers went on strike to display their dissatisfaction, companies did not hesitate to use private police forces, local city police, state militias, and even federal troops to squelch labor uprisings. By the 1890s, these uprisings and the violence that ensued had reached a boiling point.


Listen to my lecture, “Challenges to Industrial Capitalism” (30 mins.), Click here: Challenges to Industrial Capitalism.pptx

(Links to an external site.)


Part 6

The 1890s stood right in the middle of a period historians have labeled the Gilded Age. You started to learn about this period last week, with the film The Gilded Age. In this section of the module you will complete the film, which will provide more context for the challenges we are discussing this week. As you view the film, try to answer these questions:

How did the Panic of 1893 influence the development of a class consciousness among industrial workers and farmers?
How did J.P. Morgan use his financial and political influence during the economic depression that followed the Panic of 1893?
Why was the presidential election of 1896 so important?


The Gilded Age (from 1:10:13 to the end; total 42 mins.), Click here:

*Please note, in order to access the video, you must be signed into the Marriott Library’s webpage with your U of U credentials. If the above link does not immediately take you to the login page, please make sure you are signed in by going to
(Links to an external site.)
and signing in at the top right. Click “Log In” and then scroll down to “Off Campus Access.” Once you are signed in, come back here and click on the link above.


Part 7

The third major challenge for Americans in the 1890s was the question of empire. Was the United States an imperialist nation? Did people want to be a part of a global empire? Or did they believe that imperialism went against the nation’s founding ideals? Today, many people argue that the nation was always a colonial power (European and then American settlers set about to conquer indigenous peoples and, in 1848, the nation of Mexico). But in the 1890s, most people did not think of their nation’s history in that way. For them, the country was founded as an anti-imperialist nation. They had, after all, resisted the colonial oppression of the British. Thus, debates over territorial acquisition at the end of the Spanish-American War (1898) provoked real anxiety about the nation’s future.


Cartoon, “Ten thousand miles from tip to tip,” artist unknown, published by the Philadelphia Press, 1898. Depicts the expanse of United States territory, from Puerto Rico (Porto Rico) to the Philippines.


Listen to my lecture, “Empire of Liberty,” (34 mins.), Click here: Empire of Liberty.pptx



Part 8

A central part of the debate over empire during this period was the question of race. In fact, race was used in the arguments of both imperialists and anti-imperialists. For imperialists, empire was a good thing because it would allow Americans to bring civilization to “lesser,” “degraded peoples” around the world. For anti-imperialists, empire was a bad thing because it would be bringing hordes of “undesirables” into the country. In the end, of course, the imperialists won the day and the United States expanded its territorial reach throughout the Pacific and the Caribbean. Listen to historian Daniel Immerwahr, who wrote How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, discuss these racial arguments, as well as some of the long-term consequences of America’s imperial ambitions. Think about the following questions:

What constitutional rights do people from U.S. territories have?
What is the “trilemma” that develops in the 1890s, regarding the ideological identity of the United States.
Who was Cornelius Rhoads? Why is he so controversial in the history of medicine?


New York Public Radio, On the Media, “Empire State of Mind, Episode 2” (18 mins.), (Transcript available). Click here:
(Links to an external site.)


Part 9

Concluding Thoughts

This week’s module brings together three different, but related, histories to tell a story about the 1890s as major turning-point in U.S. history. The reconstruction of white supremacy shifted race-relations in the South and helped institutionalize a new system of racial control. Industrial workers and farmers rose up to challenge big business, only to be defeated by the power of industrial capitalism. By the dawn of the 20th century, capital was firmly in control, yet people of varying backgrounds continued to work against it. Finally, the nation debated the merits of empire as many sought to expand the United States’ continental borders. After 1898 the U.S. was, in fact, an empire, with colonial holdings in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and it reached into other parts of the Caribbean and Central America to exert its economic and diplomatic power.

What can these histories teach us about the shift from the 19th century to the 20th century? As modernization moved forward, many of the old social, economic, and political impulses remained. Even as the U.S. became more involved globally and American leaders touted the country as a democratic-loving, peace-loving, equal society, major inequalities structured American life. Critics of industrial capitalism did not go away, neither did civil rights activists and anti-colonial activists seeking a more fair and just world. As the 20th century moved forward, their work would become a central part of how the nation evolved.


Silent protest parade in New York City against the East St. Louis riots, 1917. NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (Courtesy of the NAACP)

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