The first fourteen years of the twentieth century constituted a major reform period in American history. In politics, economics and the arts new ideas and practices emerged to shatter nineteenth-century pre- conceptions. Crusading journalists led the way in calling for a revitalized democracy to bridge the dangerous gulf separating the very rich from the very poor. Increasingly public opinion was directed toward the elimination of class barriers by absorbing laborer and capitalist, immigrant and old-stock native, into an expanded form of democratic state which should minister to the welfare of all.
Yet during these same years, when mass audiences responded to the idealism of class solidarity and human brotherhood, relations between Negroes and whites in America grew more embittered and violent. By 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been organized to combat a mounting wave of race riots and lynchings in both North and South. What caused this upsurge of racial intolerance in an otherwise reform-minded era? A study of the most popular anti-Negro propagandist in pre-World War I America suggests that middle-class liberalism was by no means incompatible with attacks on allegedly “inferior” racial groups
Maxwell Bloomfield, Dixon’s The Leopard’s Spots: A Study in Popular Racism, 16 AM. Q. 387 (1964).