1900 was a bit of mixed bag, it seems to me, on the one hand, because this is the year when this country becomes the premiere producer of manufactured goods. Clearly, a lot of people were making a lot of money, but it’s also a time that reflects the savaging of one of the deepest depressions.
The education business is a little murky because by 1900, it has been pretty well decided that a certain amount of education was required to make the system of repression work. You had to have people who showed up punctually. You had to have people who took their orders obediently and understand them fully.
Government doesn’t do much for the new Americans. The assumption is that they’ll take care of themselves if they work hard enough.
Harlem was a development, a developer’s dream and a place where residents had more space and more amenities than ever before. The subway reached 145th street about 1904, and it seemed that Harlem’s destiny was to become largely a preserve of successful ethnics relocating and arriving. Then, overnight, the bust took place.
A preoccupation with theory has been a defensive response by academic biographers in this country, I submit, to the condescension of traditional humanists and social scientists pervading higher education for many years.
The business of return migration is a phenomenon that historians have indeed begun to look at, but it is rather an ignored and underplayed story and one that we need to know more about.
In 1900, as the immigrants come down the gangplank into Jersey City, they expect the streets to be paved with gold, and they were only paved with gold in Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ of course.
I have always been averse to theorizing about the art or craft of biography. Like Disraeli’s biographer, Lord Blake, who offers the cautionary analogy of the biographical centipede unsure of her next step because of too much cerebration, I have made it my practice to let the facts find the theory.
It was clear to many American working men and women that the Homestead Steel Strike of the early 1890s, when Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick broke the backs of the steel workers, that that was a watershed.
Harlem was an exciting place in the ’50s. There were nightclubs that, as a student of Columbia, you dashed off to. The community seemed very viable still.