Was America a country of religious and racial intolerance?

The importance of religion in America

According to the constitution, Americans are free to believe in whatever religion they choose. Many people came to live in America because they were being persecuted because of their religion.

After World War One, a number of conservative Americans tried to rekindle old values. As a result, a new kind of Christianity emerged - Fundamentalism.

Social changes in the 1920s led to a major religious revival among conservative Christians. They did not like the influence of cinema and jazz, or the new way in which women dressed and behaved. There was a growing divide between the modern city culture and the more traditional rural areas.

The Fundamentalists believed strongly and literally in everything the Bible said, and in the Bible Belt they condemned any other beliefs.

In such areas, laws were passed to prohibit short swimming costumes, and gambling on a Sunday.

Native Americans

Native Americans' attitudes about land and ownership were in complete contrast to the consumerism of 1920s USA.

By the end of the 19th century they had been forced to live on poor quality land in specified reservations, where they were encouraged to reject their own culture and integrate into the prevailing white Christian culture.

Children were sent to boarding schools to be westernised. Progress was made when the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act recognised native Americans as citizens of the United States and enabled them to vote.

However, life remained difficult as often they were:

  • one of the poorest groups in the country
  • treated as second class citizens
  • victims of racial intolerance
  • often barred from voting, due to issues such as literacy tests