Sunday, December 27, 2020

1920 little better than 2020

Screengrab of front page of Lakeland  Evening Telegram newspaper of  Dec. 31, 1920
Front page of the Dec. 31, 1920 edition. Source:
I thought it'd be fun to check contemporary concerns at the end of 1920. It'd be a way to compare 1920 current events with our mess of 2020. 

The best way to find those earlier details is in vintage newspapers. They were the main communication tools in that era. Wikipedia tells me 1920 was the year radio only started becoming popular.

So much for my great idea. A look at the Lakeland Evening Telegram of Dec. 31, 1920, quickly depressed me. Maybe 1920 was little better than 2020. 

The front page reported dismal national and global news. A polio epidemic was raging in Chicago. Some 60,000 Russian refugees from Crimea were headed for new lives in Mexico. The White Sox baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series were to be extradited on charges of consipracy.

On a Florida level, the Florida legislative delegation was being dragged in front of a Congressional committee in Washington to answer charges of voter discrimination.

The Floridians strongly denied charges of discrimination against what the newspaper termed "Negro voters." The charges were brought by the NAACP, which said mobs of lawless whites in many Florida communities interfered in elections. Specifically mentioned was rioting that took place in Ocoee on Election Day, where a white mob burned buildings and killed between 30 and 35 blacks. 

One of the saddest headlines on the front page was about lynchings, described in print as "illegal executions." The news was that lynchings were less numerous nationally in 1920, according to data compiled by The Tuskegee Institute.

"Only" - to me this is a horrific "only" number - 61 lynchings took place in 1920, compared with 83 in 1919. Seven occurred in Florida. Of the national number, eight victims were white men and one was a black woman. You do the math. That means 52 black men and one black woman were lynched in the United States in 1920. And those were the ones that were known.

There were a couple of bright spots in the news. Authorities prevented an additional 56 lynchings from taking place in 1920. Armed forces were used to repel the mobs in 14 of those cases. To me, that says at least some people in the country were attempting to combat the problem.

And, considering that anti-Catholicism pervaded Florida in that era, I was surprised to see a front-page article about Catholic celebrations. The news mentioned by name the many priests, bishops, and cardinals celebrating jubilee years throughout the country in 1921. 

All in all, the final day of 1920 as described by the Lakeland, Florida, media wasn't any too cheery from my perspective. Perhaps the newspaper's  editorial writer said it best on page 2: "The year 1920 has been a year of unsolved problems." Same can be said for 2020. Here's to a better year ahead.