America may be famed for its Jazz Age and prohibition during the 1920’s, and for its economic strength before the Wall Street Crash, but a darker side existed. The KKK dominated the South and those who did not fit in found that they were facing the full force of the law. Those who supported un-American political beliefs, such as communism, were suspects for all sorts of misdemeanors. The so-called “Red Scare” refers to the fear of communism in the USA during the 1920’s.
It is said that there were over 150,000 anarchists or communists in USA in 1920 alone and this represented only 0. 1% of the overall population of the USA. However many Americans were scared of the communists especially as they had overthrown the royal family in Russia in 1917 and murdered them in the following year. In 1901, an anarchist had shot the American president (McKinley) dead. The fear of communism increased when a series of strikes occurred in 1919. The police of Boston went on strike and 100,000’s of steel and coal workers did likewise.
The communists usually always got the blame. A series of bomb explosions in 1919, including a bungled attempt to blow up A. Mitchell Palmer, America’s Attorney-General, lead to a campaign against the communists. On New Year’s Day, 1920, over 6000 people were arrested and put in prison. Many had to be released in a few weeks and only 3 guns were found in their homes. Very few people outside of the 6000 arrested complained about the legality of these arrests such was the fear of communism.
The judicial system seemed to turn a blind eye as America’s national security was paramount However, far more people complained about the arrest of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They were arrested in May 1920 and charged with a wages robbery in which 2 guards were killed. Both men were from Italy and both spoke little English. But both were known to be anarchists and when they were found they both had loaded guns on them. The judge at their trial – Judge Thayer – was known to hate the “Reds” and 61 people claimed that they saw both men at the robbery/murders.
But 107 people claimed that they had seen both men elsewhere when the crime was committed. Regardless of this both men were found guilty. They spent 7 years in prison while their lawyers appealed but in vain. Despite many public protests and petitions, both men were executed by electric chair on August 24th, 1927. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s a culture developed within America which both feared and despised communism. This stance against the “Reds” only become diluted when America and Russia allied against a common foe in the Second World War.