Minorities and Mistreatments Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As noted elsewhere in this volume, little of the wealth in circulation at the commanding heights of the Gilded Age trickled down to the lower echelons of society–unless one counts the fact that employment was plentiful and eagerly taken up by the masses. Labor was exploited, but businesses continued to grow, and the economy, overall, continued to surge. The picture was different, however, for marginalized groups in society. American Indians, Chinese immigrants, African Americans, and Mexican immigrants all faced additional sets of challenges beyond the purely economic.

As noted elsewhere in this volume, little of the wealth in circulation at the commanding heights of the Gilded Age trickled down to the lower echelons of society–unless one counts the fact that employment was plentiful and eagerly taken up by the masses. Labor was exploited, but businesses continued to grow, and the economy, overall, continued to surge. The picture was different, however, for marginalized groups in society. American Indians, Chinese immigrants, African Americans, and Mexican immigrants all faced additional sets of challenges beyond the purely economic.

In this section we explore some of those challenges. For American Indians, for example, the days of open warfare against whites on the frontier had started to draw to a close around the time of the Great Sioux War in the 1870s. By the 1890s Native American tribal lands were being broken up under the Dawes Act and officials were requiring Indian children to attend English-language schools–and to abandon their native tongue. We look here, then, at a document concerning Indian reform and education.

Also on the sidelines of the economic boom were the Chinese immigrants who helped to build the western railroad lines and to support, in the western cities, white middle-class citizens with their services. Yet, as early as 1882, disgruntled white residents and self-serving legislative leaders rallied to enact a ban on further immigration from China. The resulting Chinese Exclusion Act, included here, remained in place for many decades and caused severe hardships among Chinese American families.

Some sought a similar ban, or at least a far more restrictive policy, with respect to Mexican immigrants, who were seen by critics as damaging white workers’ prospects by accepting work at cheap rates. We include here a document reflecting such views.

Equally troubling was the treatment accorded to African American citizens. This section includes a statement by a Mississippi governor who opposes black education (and much else). This is countered by three essays by the great African American sociologist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois, laying out how the view looks from the other side, along with a trenchant piece on “What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital” by black activist and journalist Mary Church Terrell.

Categories: History Content