Abstract: Corporate Elites and the Interwar Anti-Lynching Movement: Reinterpreting the Role of Big Business in American Political Development

Jesse T. Tarbert


A dramatic increase in racial violence at the end of World War One sparked an unnoticed reshuffling of political alliances in America. In the pre-war years, corporate elites had tended to support the “racial accommodationist” policies of Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Institute, and they had largely opposed the more confrontational approach of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In response to the postwar crisis, however, some prominent corporate elites joined forces with the NAACP to support a movement to pass a federal anti-lynching law. Existing histories of the 1920s anti-lynching debates have used the episode to assess the relative commitment of Republicans to the cause of African-American civil rights, or to chart the progress of the NAACP. But one neglected aspect of the story is how it reveals the commitment of Republican presidents and some corporate elites to one of the foundational ideals of good government: enforcement of the law. This commitment led them to favor a dramatic increase in the central power of the American national state.