Some Americans expressed their discontent with the character of modern life in the 1920s by focus- ing on family and religion, as an increasingly urban, secular society came into conflict with older rural traditions . Fundamentalist preach- ers such as Billy Sunday provided an outlet for many who yearned for a return to a simpler past .

Perhaps the most dramatic dem- onstration of this yearning was the religious fundamentalist crusade that pitted Biblical texts against the Darwinian theory of biological evo- lution . In the 1920s, bills to prohibit the teaching of evolution began ap- pearing in Midwestern and South- ern state legislatures . Leading this crusade was the aging William Jen- nings Bryan, long a spokesman for the values of the countryside as well as a progressive politician . Bryan skillfully reconciled his anti-evo- lutionary activism with his earlier economic radicalism, declaring that evolution “by denying the need or possibility of spiritual regeneration, discourages all reforms .”

The issue came to a head in 1925, when a young high school teacher, John Scopes, was prosecuted for vio- lating a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of evolution in the pub- lic schools . The case became a nation- al spectacle, drawing intense news coverage . The American Civil Lib- erties Union retained the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes . Bryan wrangled an appoint-


ment as special prosecutor, then fool- ishly allowed Darrow to call him as a hostile witness . Bryan’s confused defense of Biblical passages as literal rather than metaphorical truth drew widespread criticism . Scopes, nearly forgotten in the fuss, was convicted, but his fine was reversed on a tech- nicality . Bryan died shortly after the trial ended . The state wisely declined to retry Scopes . Urban sophisticates ridiculed fundamentalism, but it continued to be a powerful force in rural, small-town America .

Another example of a power- ful clash of cultures — one with far greater national consequences — was Prohibition . In 1919, after almost a century of agitation, the 18th Amendment to the Constitu- tion was enacted, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages . Intended to eliminate the saloon and the drunk- ard from American society, Prohi- bition created thousands of illegal drinking places called “speakeasies,” made intoxication fashionable, and created a new form of criminal ac- tivity — the transportation of ille- gal liquor, or “bootlegging .” Widely observed in rural America, openly evaded in urban America, Prohibi- tion was an emotional issue in the prosperous Twenties . When the De- pression hit, it seemed increasingly irrelevant . The 18th Amendment would be repealed in 1933 .

Fundamentalism and Prohibition were aspects of a larger reaction to a modernist social and intellectual revolution most visible in changing

manners and morals that caused the decade to be called the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, or the era of “flaming youth .” World War I had overturned the Victorian social and moral order . Mass prosperity en- abled an open and hedonistic life style for the young middle classes .

The leading intellectuals were supportive . H .L . Mencken, the de- cade’s most important social critic, was unsparing in denouncing sham and venality in American life . He usually found these qualities in ru- ral areas and among businessmen . His counterparts of the progressive movement had believed in “the peo- ple” and sought to extend democra- cy . Mencken, an elitist and admirer of Nietzsche, bluntly called demo- cratic man a boob and characterized the American middle class as the “booboisie .”

Novelist F . Scott Fitzgerald cap- tured the energy, turmoil, and disil- lusion of the decade in such works as The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) and The Great Gatsby (1925) . Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win a Nobel Prize for literature, sati- rized mainstream America in Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922) . Er- nest Hemingway vividly portrayed the malaise wrought by the war in The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) . Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many other writ- ers dramatized their alienation from America by spending much of the decade in Paris .

African-American culture flow- ered . Between 1910 and 1930, huge




numbers of African Americans moved from the South to the North in search of jobs and personal free- dom . Most settled in urban areas, especially New York City’s Har- lem, Detroit, and Chicago . In 1910 W .E .B . DuBois and other intel- lectuals had founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which helped African Americans gain a na- tional voice that would grow in im- portance with the passing years .

An African-American literary and artistic movement, called the “Harlem Renaissance,” emerged . Like the “Lost Generation,” its writers, such as the poets Langs- ton Hughes and Countee Cullen, rejected middle-class values and conventional literary forms, even as they addressed the realities of African-American experience . Af- rican-American musicians — Duke Ellington, King Oliver, Louis Arm- strong — first made jazz a staple of American culture in the 1920s .

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