>Discussing racism, back in the 1920s

>My grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother then married a widower in town who had been lucky enough to have married a woman with family money the first time around. This means that my grandmother, having been born in working-class immigrant circumstances, spent the last 50 years of her life (she almost made it to 92) in a lovely woodland cottage with very nice antique furniture and heirloom jewelry.
The cottage had once been part of a private club, started in 1920 when a group of people bought up several acres of woodland and built summer bungalows there, presumably to drink in peace (during Prohibition) as well as enjoy the country air. The club had disbanded for good some 30 years ago, and the lots were divided up and claimed by their current occupants. When my grandmother died and we took possession of her papers, we found quite a bit pertaining to the club, some of it quite old.
One of the most interesting from this archive is a letter dated August 11, 1926 and written by a club member to one of its officers. I quote the body of the letter in its entirety:

Dear Bob: Because of important business engagements Tues. the 11th I shall be unable to attend a meeting of [ ] Club. Since my talk with you I realize that most items to be discussed at the meeting have to do with actions of mine I regret that I cannot be present. Shall try to make my position clear therefore in this letter.

I am now aware of the animosity towards me since I moved to [ ] and brought Percy over to the unoccupied house because I wanted to make it easy for him to take care of the horses and the work about the bungalow. When I mentioned the fact that I wanted to fix up the house for him I certainly did not try in any way to mislead anyone as to his color — that evidently being the main objection to him. Am only sorry that I did not get to the Club meetings to as to bring it before all the members.

It became my unpleasant duty on the strength of the objections made to him going in swimming with some of his friends to ask him to keep from doing it in the future. He assured me he would not give any case for complaint in the future.

Perhaps I am prejudiced in Percy’s favor, but I feel I have done him an unintentional wrong — stirred up in him a feeling of bitterness because of this evident dislike to his color. We have appreciated him so much and have noted the whiteness of his character — that it has really spoiled our desire to stay here.

As soon as we can dispose of the horses which we are now trying to do Percy intends moving back to town and when necessary repairs are made to our home in town we shall also be going over. This will possibly be the end of August.

Would appreciate having a statement of what I owe the Club so that prompt settlement may be made.

Cordially yours,

I find this letter a fascinating glimpse into the prevailing attitudes about race in the 1920s, including the well-meaning racism of the writer — he seems to have had his heart in the right place, yet he refers to his employee only by his first name, and refers to the “whiteness of his character”. I do not hold this against him — this was, after all, 1926. It’s just interesting to me. What do you think? — Comments are welcome.

3 thoughts on “>Discussing racism, back in the 1920s

  1. >It reads to me like the person has a genuine affection for his employee, and yet, yes, there is the heedless racism in the “whiteness of his character” remark. Also, Percy seems to have been pretty comfortable — he didn’t worry about using whatever facility he went swimming in with his friends; it seems the writer is surprised that anyone took offense, so he does seem to have some kind of good sense.”…it has really spoiled our desire to stay here.” And he feels bad that Percy has been slighted.But, yeah, rather than fight (or use the kind of language certain people *coughcough* might be inclined towards), they just go. It was the times. And everyone wasn’t intentionally evil.


  2. >That’s what I liked about him the most — “I don’t want to hang out with you guys anymore, see ya.” He actually up and left rather than lose a good employee, whereas some might have just figured “Oh well” and stayed.


  3. >I took the ‘whiteness of his character’ to illustrate the writer was really colorblind. He saw past the skin color and saw a kindred spirit. He’s trying to tell the Club members Percy is just like them.Like the fact that he’s bailing on the ‘Club’. Shows a heart in the right place.


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