American University
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Strangers in a middle land: Italian immigrants and race relations in Baltimore, 1890-1920

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:03 authored by Gordon H. Shufelt

This dissertation examines relations between African-Americans and Italian immigrants during the early development of the Italian-immigrant community in Baltimore. The first part includes a summary of the social, political, and economic circumstances in which interactions between African-Americans and Italian immigrants occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. The second part traces the development of relations between these two groups as the people of Baltimore lived through a series of crises, including a major fire in the central business district, two attempts to disfranchise African-Americans, and a series of ordinances intended to exclude African-Americans from living in predominantly white neighborhoods. The crises that occurred in the early twentieth century presented bases for cooperation as well as conflict between African-Americans and Italian immigrants. Both groups faced difficulties as a result of lost jobs following the fire. In the disfranchisement campaigns of 1905 and 1909, African-Americans and Italian immigrants faced similar political concerns, as the disfranchisement plans jeopardized the voting rights of all persons not descended from a person who had been eligible to vote in 1869--a category that included recent immigrants as well as African-Americans. Housing segregation ordinances directed against African-Americans raised the possibility that similar ordinances might be used against immigrants. On the other hand, African-Americans and Italian immigrants had similar employment skills and competed for jobs and housing. Despite the potential for both cooperation and conflict, Italian immigrants in Baltimore developed attitudes about race relations that discouraged cooperation with African-Americans, even in circumstances in which African Americans and Italian immigrants had common interests. The cultural adjustment of Italian immigrants to a racially and ethnically diverse society in Baltimore was the product of interactions with not only African-Americans, but also Baltimore's many other ethnic communities. Through these interactions, Italian immigrants learned that in America, African-Americans were defined as permanent outsiders, and for newcomers, such as Italian immigrants, it was important to separate themselves African-Americans.







Ph.D. American University 1998.


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