Dealing With Diversity in America From Reconstruction Through the 1920s


People’s ability to collaborate with others who demonstrate different culture-based values often serves as an indicator of their open-mindedness and humanity. Today, the importance of diversity seems evident at the personal level, but in the past, the authorities of some large countries such as the United States attempted at restricting its growth to maintain order and prevent any changes in the structure of power.

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Being among the most important conflicts shaping the strategy of the United States in the nineteenth century, the American Civil War is usually regarded as an epoch-making event in terms of freedom for previously oppressed populations. Officially, slavery and oppression on the basis of race and the country of origin became unlawful after the war. With that in mind, the country seemed to make equality and diversity its new policies.

Having analyzed minorities’ social and economic position right after the Civil War and at the beginning of the 1920s, it is easy to notice that America’s diversity has increased since 1865. Despite the existence of movements concerned with the issues of diversity and equal opportunities, it would not be right to underestimate the hardships of racial minorities living in the discussed period. Using the examples of laws discriminating against African-Americans and expressing America’s fear of the Yellow Peril, the essay argues that many political trends of the time were aimed at limiting diversity.

Three Examples

Since 1865, there have been numerous attempts to transform a freed slave into a person who cannot enjoy certain rights because of education gaps and financial difficulties. The first example relates to one of the most known legislative decisions aimed at limiting the rights of former slaves – the Black Code of Mississippi passed in 1865 (Schultz, 1, p. 294; Mississippi Black Code, 2). The next example that demonstrates the government’s unwillingness to promote diversity and make various races equally involved in the country’s economic and social life is the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 (The U.S. Government, 3).

The final example that relates to the 1890s is included to analyze some states’ continuous attempts to limit the rights of African-Americans without using racist rhetoric. The Second Mississippi Plan of 1890 was a set of requirements to be met by citizens to use their right to vote (Schultz, 1, p. 338). Despite providing no references to race, the new policy exploited former slaves’ situation with access to education to limit diversity.

Examples Continued

The end of the Civil War was supposed to significantly change the position of racial minorities in the United States and help the white population regard them as full-fledged citizens. The first example proves that the life of a former slave in the United States was inextricably connected with the artificially created barriers to equality and financial independence. The Mississippi Black Code of 1865 was among the key sources of financial and social pressure that prevented the redistribution of power right after the war.

For instance, with its help, former slaves were denied access to numerous sources of money – the requirement to rent land only in urban areas prevented them from going into agricultural business. Many prohibitions listed in the code may seem logical and aimed at making the country safer (weapon-wearing, vagabondage, buying alcoholic drinks, etc.). At the same time, they could easily be used to manipulate the freed people and punish them for attempts to achieve independence.

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For example, the absence of the right to carry weapons and testify against white citizens could make them helpless face to face with white offenders (Schultz, 1, p. 294; Mississippi Black Code, 2). The majority of those rules involved monetary penalties, and it allowed keeping valuable resources in the hands of the racial majority and contributing to inequality in education. Therefore, the law limited diversity in a variety of ways.

Apart from keeping the black population financially vulnerable, the authorities tried to limit racial diversity by introducing laws to prevent Chinese immigration. In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a massive influx of gold diggers from China who were active in trying a variety of professional fields (Schultz, 1, p. 348). The Chinese Exclusion Act can be listed among the brightest examples of how the right of white Americans to set the tone for economic development was preserved. The mentioned event had a significant impact on the racial composition of American society, prevented the unwanted growth of the American-Asian population, and expressed anti-Chinese public sentiments.

Its role in resistance to diversity was extremely important due to the law’s manipulative character – to meet their relatives again, many Chinese immigrants needed to leave the United States. The discussed act implemented a ten-year immigration ban for Chinese workers (The U.S. Government, 2). The law was helpful in protecting the nation’s economic interests, and its effects negatively impacted racial diversity in the country, bringing the influence of immigrants to naught.

The Second Mississippi Plan dated 1890 was a continuation of legislative efforts that prevented the racial majority from losing the positions of power. This political decision introduced a variety of legal barriers for African-American citizens wishing to express their civic position and use voting rights (Schultz, 1, p. 338). Among the barriers, there were special taxes for voters and other measures that made use of former slaves’ limited access to education.

To participate in voting, racial minorities in Mississippi had to demonstrate their literacy skills and knowledge of the existing laws, and evaluators could use their position to deceive voters. This attempt to restrict some racial groups’ political participation demonstrates the willingness to maintain the racial hierarchy of the past and oppose diversity in many spheres of life.

Opposing View

In spite of the discussed laws’ negative influence on diversity, the proponents of the opposite viewpoint may argue that diversity was actively promoted because racial minorities were free to form their communities and express themselves through their culture. For instance, it is important that black families’ access to education and religious freedom was improved due to the 13th Amendment, whereas Chinese immigrants could be a threat to cultural diversity themselves (Schultz, 1, p. 338). Nevertheless, this position can be criticized because the discussed laws made minority groups interested in separating from the majority for different purposes, including self-protection. As a result, it could hinder interracial collaboration, true diversity, and mutual understanding.

Legacy and Impact Today

The United States has significantly improved its support of diversity since the end of the discussed epoch, and some facts of the past seem shocking today. As a compliance manager, I see many companies’ efforts to promote cultural diversity and eliminate prejudiced attitudes to employees and clients. Today, being open to different people is a common business trend, and many employers stand to gain from interviewing and hiring diverse candidates. Nevertheless, racial diversity in some well-paid fields is still limited, which is clear from poverty rates by race and everyday observations. For instance, racial minorities are underrepresented in senior management teams, which can be attributed to the long-term effects of wealth inequality caused by racial oppression and the exploitation of immigrant workers.

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  1. Kevin M. Schultz. 2018. HIST: Volume 2: U.S. History since 1865. 5th ed.
  2. Mississippi Black Code. n.d. Web.
  3. The U.S. Government. 1882. Chinese Exclusion Act. Web.
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StudyCorgi. "Dealing With Diversity in America From Reconstruction Through the 1920s." June 16, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Dealing With Diversity in America From Reconstruction Through the 1920s." June 16, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Dealing With Diversity in America From Reconstruction Through the 1920s'. 16 June.

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