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Hate
Speech
The History
of an American
Controversy
University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London
01′(4’1
{
(‘,
Origins of the Hate Speech Issue,
1920-1931
The 1920s are remembered as J decade of intolerance. Bigotry was as
much a symbol of the period as Prohibition, flappers, the stock market
‘boom, and Calvin Coolidge. It was the only time when the Ku Klux Klan
paraded en masse through the nation’s capital. In 1921 Congressre’stricted
immigration for the first time in American history, arasticafIy~reducini~-infl-~~-;’fCatholics and Jews from southern and eastern Europe, and
the nation’s leading universities adopted admission quotas to restrict the
number of Jewish students. The Sacco ~d Vanzetti case, in which two
Italian American anarchists were executed for robbery and murder in a
highly questionable prosecution, has always been one of the symbols of
the anti-immigrant tenor of the period.!
Yet the twenties were hardly the most bigoted period in American
history – regrettably, there is considerable competition for that dubious
honor. The scar of racism runs through the whole course of American
history, and religious prejudice has an equally long legacy. The New
England Puritans sought religious freedom t<)r thermelves Jnd did not hesitate to suppress those who dissented ti"om their version of orthodoxy, The arrival or large numbers or Catholil: immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s aroused an ugly anti-Catholic prejudice that still lingers. As recently as 1960, John F. Kennedy tound that tear of his Cltholicisl11 was the major obstacle to his presidential candidacy. Racial, religiolls, and ethnic prejudice was probably most intense in the 1890s, when the im!lligr<1tion 18 Origins of the Hate Speech Issue of southern and eastern Europeans reached its highest level and when institutionalized segregation spread throughout the South.2 If anything, the twenties were different simply because prejudice was more openly expressed than ever before and more likely to be written into law. Beneath the surface, however, new curren~s were stirring: the victims f()lIght back. For the first time in American history African Americans, Jews, and Catholics mounted organized and oc<:;asionally successful efforts to combat discrimination. The tight for acceptance and equality was led by a group of civil rights organiiations that began to appear before World War 1. The American Jewish Committee was formed in 1906, followed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 1913, and the American Jewish Congress in 1918. Significantly, there was no Catholic civil rights organization equivalent to the NAACP or the AD!.. To a certain extent, Catholic Americans did not need one. Through sheer weight of numbers and their consequent control of urban political machines, they had considerable political power. By the early 1930s, moreover, the Catholic church hierarchy was wielding considerable influence over public policy at the national level on such issues as censorship and birth control.·' Following the vicious anti-Catholic attacks on Democratic presidential candidate AI Smith in 1928, the National Conference of Christians and Jews was formed to promote religious rolerance.4 These organizations, often joined by other religious groups and some of the more progressive labor unions, formed the core of what emerged in the 1940s as the national civil rights coalition. The coalition exerted a powerful influence over public policy from that point until the early 1970s, when it split over the issue of amrmative action. The appearance of another advocacy group set the stage for the hate speech controversy. Following the suppression of dissent during World War I, the American Civil Liberti<:s Union (ACLU) was established in January 1920. The ACI.U committed itself to the defense of free speech, including halehd and otknsive speech.s When Catholics and Jews made their tirst attempts to suppress expressions of hate - by banning circulation of Henry Ford's anti -Semitic newspaper and prohibiting meetings and p,lI',llks hy Ihl' Ku Klux Klan (KKK) - the A<:J.lI stepped in to ddend the hrst Amendment rights of the bigots. In these early clashes, the hate speech controversy in America was horn. Origins of the Hate Speech Issue 19 It would be a mistake to exag,gerate the importance of these initial clashes in the context of the period. Most were relatively minor skirmishes. that flared briefly and were quickly torgotten; they are rarely mentioned in standard history textbooks and often do not appear in more specialized accounts of the decade. The exception to this rule was a New York antiKKK law that resulted in an important Supreme Court decision.6 These early cases touched on the fundamental problems related to free speech but did not resolve them. By the end of the decade, the situation was still fluid and the outcome by no means certain. Henry Ford was not the worst anti-Semite in America - only the richest and most t:,mOlls. Cre,!or of thl' f:,bkd Mmkl T and the modern- auto· mobile assembly line, Ford was a national folk hero in thc 1920s, as the inexpensive, mass-produced automobile was already revolutionizing American life. He was also a vicious anti-Semite with the financial resources to dissemin,lte his views widely. His personal newspaper, the Dearbo17l Independent, had a circulation of over 600,000, and he rcquired Ford automobile dealers to sell it as an onicial company product. Anti-Semitism was one of its main features. The Independent published the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' with a long series of other articles on the alleged evils ofJewish people. Ford then reprinted the first eighty of these articles as a book, The International Jew: The WorldJs Foremost Problem, which sold over 500,000 copies.H Ford embraced the full catalog of traditional anti·Semitism: that a cabal of international Jewish bankers controlled the American economy;. that Jews were an alien people destroying the Christian values of America. To these traditional themes he added some slurs related to current events: that Jewish gangsters were behind the "Black Sox" scandal that corrupteti the 1919 baseball World Series; that jazz was Jewish music, t(listed on America by }l:wish-controllt:d musil' publishing companies; and so on." The Dearborn Independent encountered relatively little opposition; the twenties were a time of ope'.l.md.l!nembarrassed anti:~elll)tism f()r most Americans. In addition 1<'; t~ aJO'lissiol~'ll~{;"t:is-l",i(,neges all~i·i:;r()fcssional schools, many employers .refused to hire Jews. The legal protCssion adopted a number or measures ostensibly dcsignl'li" to raise protessional 20 Origins of the Hate SpeechIssue 21 Origins of the Hate SpeechIssue standards that really were blatant attempts to exclude Jews and oth~r recent immigrants from the profession. 10 Restrictive covenants on the sale of real estate were common (as late as 1974 future chief justice of th¢. Supreme Court William H. Rehnguist purchased a vacation home in Vermont with a covenant prohibiting resale "to any member of the Hebrew race").11 Hotels, country clubs, and resorts openly excluded Jews. Only a tew of ford's dealers objected to carrying the Independent. In some cities, however, distribution of the Independent aroused resistance. Street vendors in Toledo, Ohio, were attacked, and a near riot ensued. In New York City threats of violence forced vendors off the street. Officials in several midwestern cities suppressed the paper in an effort to prevent further violence; Cleveland and Toledo banned it altogether. The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, banned it along with an opposition paper, Facts, and Cincinnati passed an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of any inflammatory publication.12 There WJS nothing novel about these attacks on the circulation of a news~)Jper: vigilJnte JttJcks on unpopulJr ideas had long been an American tradition. The majority had assumed a right to suppress whatever it deemed otfensive to its values. Direct action, moreover, was far swifter and more certain than the legal process.13 The suppression of dissent during World War I had continued that tradition and added official proscription of allegedly dangerous publications. The Supreme Court, moreover, had upheld otlicial repression under the "bad tendency" test. 14 The tradition of vigilantism, however, had always been a means of imposing the majority's views on minority groups. The truly novel aspect of the attacks on the Dearborn Independent was that they represented actions by a minority group against views held by the vast majority of Americans. That the Jewish community could command the support of public officials in a few cities reflected an important change in the social and political landscape. The newly organized ACI.U promptly went to Ford's defense.l~ In a - 1921 letter to loc~.0!f~<:ia1.~L~hC:.6_9~lJ_~~m.~s;LEQrQ.:.s.,,',~jg!1:g[_~.!2L'ill.Q~_ l~tCfufp-~o.;da ;gai '~_!~~.IC:~.s.~.'._~l~U.Lill:~Q.sriti£i~£.iUh.£_~~~ to suppress the Dearborn J!!..1!./!.:.-ndent. '~g'y"~_view ,-_~2._f21at!'<'=Lh.Q~_jg: __ norant or harmtl~ we J~.~_YTegar9it,',~~!?~,~qt!~rgl.l~9! "h~~a)~$_aLaD~,_" moral right te; 'hc.:1rd.,:'.~. B11nl;il~J.Ji£.pr9pert;y, The Klan enjoyed considerable appeal in the city. One rally, on private property, was attended by more than three hundred ":::EP.c:E,~!':,sf-Iarvar9.~':_~::~E~~X¥.lSL!9~!.:£~::1I The local ACLU affiliate offered to represent the Klan, and the result was a debate over the scope of the I-=irstAmendment. Although relatively brict~ the debate touched on the fundamental issues in the hate speech controversy. Despite his reputation as a corrupt political boss (he was eventually. convicted on corruption charges and sent to prison ), Curley proved quite :" articulate on the First Amendment. In a letter to the local ACLU leader, he declared himself a "stout stickler for freedom of meeting." The Klan, however, had placed itself outside the scope of First Amendment protection: it "tasters race and religious hatreds, toments civic dissension, [and] disturbs the peace." Moreover, it was a clandestine criminalconspira~)' that made "no s<:cretofj,ts intens)gl'E()5i~pd:~~Q~h;~-'citi~~I;i'()ftEeir', rights and privilcgesUl:9~.r ??~,~~.Constitutiol1,~",12 Because of its violent PG;p'oses, public 'off1cials'had both a right and a duty to prohibit even apparently peaceful activities. The idea that a peaceful meeting could be banned because of violent actions by other members of the organization, or other unlawful purposes, became a standard argument for those who would restrict oHcnsive groups. Boston ACI.U leader John S. Codman replied by accusing Curley of establishing himself as "the sole judge of what organizations have a right" to hold meetings in the city. This arbitrary exercise of power was "not authorized by our Constitution and law." Cadman argued __ the ACLLJ posi tiol1__()D)~ee.9g!TI 0[spe5£b, that there was ~SIe~~~g~sti!2~,sign!?st::V~en , -:7;';;-;:~f.1I1ddced." Overtnill1inal ;lCts cOlddbepunished~ but not forms ~re~;~~e;~i;;ll~ 6.E~'I}~li(I~;~etil1gwas ~ ... Purchase answer to see full attachment

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