Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Racial Politics in the 1920s
Jared Werges
Time Frame:
Two periods (50 minutes each)
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Students will be using the Internet to identify regional trends in post reconstruction presidential elections through the election of Herbert Hoover in 1928.  Keeping in mind these regional trends, students will then analyze responses to the DePriest tea incident. 

  • Students need to understand racial, regional, and political trends in the twentieth century.  By analyzing the DePriest incident, a fascinating and often overlooked event, students will gain better understanding of these important concepts.  Additionally, students will receive valuable practice analyzing primary sources.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Show Me Standards

  • 2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world
  • 5. The major elements of geographical study and analysis (such as location, place, movement, regions) and their relationships to changes in society and environment
  • 6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions
  • 7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
Full description of activity or assignment.
  • This lesson will come after lessons on cultural conflict in the 1920s over prohibition and religion.


  • Review gains made for African Americans during Reconstruction and how the gains were erased with the end of Reconstruction.  Review discrimination, segregation, and voting restrictions for African Americans.


  • Have students examine post reconstruction elections from 1880 through 1928 at www.270towin.com.  For each election they should indicate who won the election (name and party).  They should also indicate how many states the Republican candidate won in the South for each election.


  • Briefly discuss why Democrats did so well in the South until 1928. 

Why does this change temporarily in 1928?  What cultural conflicts may have caused people in the South to vote for a Republican?


  • Briefly discuss Hoover’s southern strategy in 1928 of appealing to southerners on social and economic issues, while minimizing racial concerns.  People expected the prosperity that was evident during the Coolidge presidency to continue.  Hoover’s strategy was made more effective by the fact that his opponent, Alfred Smith, was a Roman Catholic who supported repealing prohibition.  Catholicism and the repeal of prohibition were big political obstacles for rural, white southerners.  This election clearly illustrates the rural/urban division of the 1920s.   For many rural southerners, Smith was perceived as a threat to traditional values.  A popular radio preacher put Smith in the same camp as "card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, dancing, evolution, Clarence Darrow, nude art, prize-fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism."


  • Tell students that in 1929 Oscar DePriest, a Republican from Chicago, became the first African American to serve in Congress since 1901, when George H. White left the House.


  • Later that year the First Lady plans to follow the tradition of having a tea party for the wives of members of Congress.  Mrs. Hoover does not want to exclude Mrs. DePriest.  It would be politically dangerous, however, to invite an African American woman to the White House for a social event at this point in history.  The last integrated social event at the White House occurred when Theodore Roosevelt, another Republican, invited Booker T. Washington to dinner in 1901.  This angered white southerners.  But what are some important differences between the events in 1901 and 1929 that might cause people to be more outraged in 1929?  (TR did not invite a woman and he did not have support in the South in the preceding election [McKinley ran in 1900 and did not receive electoral votes in the South]).  Mrs. Hoover still decides to invite Mrs. DePriest, who attends. 


After discussing sourcing information about the article, discuss the perspective that the author adopts.  Is it objective? Ask students how the article describes Mrs. DePriest and the tea party.  Why has this “south hating Republicanism” happened, according to the article?


  • Students will next be reading letters that are written in response to the tea party.  Each student will read at least four letters for and against Mrs. Hoover’s decision.  This can be printed or read electronically.  Links for the letters are listed above.


  • For each letter that they read students should indicate whether the letter is for or against Mrs. Hoover’s actions, who wrote it, the date, what state it comes from, and reasons listed for support or criticisms.  After analyzing letters, students will write a paragraph indicating what they have learned about racial and regional politics in the 1920s, using specific evidence from the letters.

Assignment:  Write a letter to Mrs. Hoover citing at least five specific reasons why you think her decision to invite Mrs. DePriest to the tea party was correct or incorrect.  The letter should include racial and regional explanations for your stance.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
Letter to Mrs. Hoover

Teacher Name:

Student Name:     ________________________________________







Sentences & Paragraphs

Sentences and paragraphs are complete, well-constructed and of varied structure.

All sentences are complete and well-constructed (no fragments, no run-ons). Paragraphing is generally done well.

Most sentences are complete and well-constructed. Paragraphing needs some work.

Many sentence fragments or run-on sentences OR paragraphing needs lots of work.

Salutation and Closing

Salutation and closing have no errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Salutation and closing have 1-2 errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Salutation and closing have 3 or more errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Salutation and/or closing are missing.


Ideas were expressed in a clear and organized fashion. It was easy to figure out what the letter was about.

Ideas were expressed in a pretty clear manner, but the organization could have been better.

Ideas were somewhat organized, but were not very clear. It took more than one reading to figure out what the letter was about.

The letter seemed to be a collection of unrelated sentences. It was very difficult to figure out what the letter was about.

Grammar & spelling (conventions)

Writer makes no errors in grammar or spelling.

Writer makes 1-2 errors in grammar and/or spelling.

Writer makes 3-4 errors in grammar and/or spelling

Writer makes more than 4 errors in grammar and/or spelling.

Content Accuracy

The letter contains at least 5 specific and accurate reasons for author’s stance

The letter contains 3-4 specific and accurate reasons for author’s stance

The letter contains 1-2 specific and accurate reasons for author’s stance

The letter contains no specific and accurate reasons for author’s stance