Saturday, August 10, 2019

Race Riots and High Prices

Non Sequiturback Saturday looks at race riots and the cost of living a century ago, and the editorial cartoonists' response to both. We'll start with the heavy stuff.
"Prohibition Hasn't Sobered the Headlines" by John T. McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1919
Chicago experienced a week of rioting after a Black youth, Eugene Williams, swimming off a de facto whites-only beach, was stoned by White youths until he drowned. Police refused to arrest the man witnesses identified as the instigator of the stoning, which sparked rioting by Black gangs and unmeasured retaliation by White ethnic gangs. 23 Blacks and 15 Whites were killed, over 500 injured. White arsonists burned 1,000 Black families out of their homes between July 27 and August 3, 1919, as lamented by Black cartoonist Leslie Rogers.
"Stamp Him Out" by Leslie Rogers in Chicago Defender, August, 1919
Racial tension and violence was by no means limited to Chicago. White veterans returned home to find their pre-war jobs filled by immigrants and by Blacks who had migrated north and west from southern states. 1919 would see racist resentment spur riots in Washington, DC; Knoxville, TN; Longview, TX; Phillips Co., AR; and Omaha, NE.
"The 'New Crowd Negro' Making America Safe for Himself," unsigned, in The Messenger, August, 1919
Although my selection of editorial cartoons here clearly hold White hoodlums responsible for the rioting, there were editorial writers who insinuated that some Blacks had fallen under the influence of Bolshevik rabble-rousers.
"The Slave of Violence" by Sidney Joseph Greene in New York Evening Telegram, July 31, 1919
Moving on to much less serious matters, but one that held more cartoonists' attention: high prices of commodities have been a perennial concern since the days of the cowry shell. Attacks on shipping before the U.S. entered the war, and the need to supply our soldiers after that had necessitated shortages on various goods; Americans were unpleasantly surprised not to see a return to Taft-era prices. As a writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle quipped, "The roar against the high cost of necessities is accompanied by a howl about the necessities of high costs."
"Faith, Hope and Charity" by Sidney J. Greene in New York Evening Telegram, August 3, 1919
I have to note here that while Sidney Greene's cartoon may have run in the Milwaukee Sentinel, he drew it for the New York Evening Telegram; the Sentinel did not have a cartoonist of its own in 1919.

It was not standard practice, as it has been as long as I can remember, for cartoonists to include a credit line for their newspaper or syndicate in the body of their cartoons. One possible exception is William C. Morris, who included an encircled "A" in the cartoons he drew for the George Matthew Adams Service.
"Let the Sun Shine on It" by Kenneth Chamberlain in Cleveland Press, August, 1919
Concern over the high cost of living was so pervasive that headline writers routinely used "H.C.L." instead of spelling it out. The public, press and politicians focused their ire on profiteering by producers withholding foodstuffs, coal, and other commodities from the market. Grocers, for their part, replied that, thanks to the new practice of allowing customers to fill their shopping baskets rather than having the grocer fetch things for them, those consumers were choosing only the most attractive meats and vegetables and leaving the rest to rot on market shelves.
"Under the Old Family Umbrella" by Donald McKee for Associated Newspapers, August 7, 1919
Surplus food supplies held by the War Department also contributed to raising costs, so it was a relief to consumers when the government began selling these supplies to the public by parcel post in mid-August. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer proposed reinstating wartime controls over supplies and costs.
"Another Victory Day" by Elmer A. Bushnell for Central Press Assn., Cleveland, August, 1919
To give you an idea what consumers were complaining about, here are excerpts from letters to the Telegraph-Herald of Dubuque, Iowa:
"I recently paid forty-three cents a pound for pork loins and thirty-eight cents a pound for pork shoulder. While I do not know the exact costs of handling this meat, still I feel sure that these prices are excessive..." —An Old Subscriber
"This morning my wife bought a pound of boiled ham and do you know what she paid for it? Eighty cents! I was sure there was a mistake, but I found that the price ranged from sevety-five to eighty cents, and the very poorest cuts for twenty-five cents." —A Plain Citizen
"I see by the papers that the government has been requested to look into the high prices of food. If they would pay Dubuque a visit, they would find plenty to investigate right here. Yesterday our butcher charged me thirty-eight cents for fresh beef. But the bacon takes the prize. It cost me seventy cents a pound." —A Regular Reader
"Somebody has this town by the throat and is trying to choke it. Here's why. Today I paid a dollar a peck for potatoes. I also bought a hundred-pound sack of flour for seven dollars and thirty-five cents. Is that fair?" —One of the Consumers
"The Fickle Public" by Albert W. Steele in Denver Post, August, 1919
Since it may be hard to read this Denver Post cartoon, "The Fickle Public," the dancing man being booed on stage is "High Cost o' Livin'," and President Wilson's ribbon identifies him as "Stage Manager." I can't imagine that the fickle audience had cheered Mr. Livin' at any point during his performance, so I'm guessing — wildly, mind you — that Miss League of Nations is disappointed that the audience isn't booing her any more.

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