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A Great Conspiracy against Our Race

A Great Conspiracy against Our Race: Italian Immigrant Newspapers and the Construction of Whiteness in the Early 20th Century

Peter G. Vellon
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfwn6
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  • Book Info
    A Great Conspiracy against Our Race
    Book Description:

    Racial history has always been the thorn in America's side, with a swath of injustices - slavery, lynching, segregation, and many other ills - perpetrated against black people. This very history is complicated by, and also dependent on, what constitutes a white person in this country. Many of the European immigrant groups now considered white have also had to struggle with their own racial consciousness. In A Great Conspiracy against Our Race, Peter Vellon explores how Italian immigrants, a once undesirable and swarthy race, assimilated into dominant white culture through the influential national and radical Italian language press in New York City. Examining the press as a cultural production of the Italian immigrant community, this book investigates how this immigrant press constructed race, class, and identity from 1886 through 1920. Their frequent coverage of racially charged events of the time, as well as other topics such as capitalism and religion, reveals how these papers constructed a racial identity as Italian, American, and white. A Great Conspiracy against Our Race vividly illustrates how the immigrant press was a site where socially constructed categories of race, color, civilization, and identity were reworked, created, contested, and negotiated. Vellon also uncovers how Italian immigrants filtered societal pressures and redefined the parameters of whiteness, constructing their own identity. This work is an important contribution to not only Italian American history, but America's history of immigration and race.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8849-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1886, in response to a lynching in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the localCommercial Heralddeclared, “The lynching of those who commit rape is the best possible protection from the horrible crime.”¹ White southerners often touted the preservation of southern female virtue as the standard defense of lynching, especially because proving guilt regarding rape was deemed difficult. Moreover, even in cases where guilt was proved, lynching served as the antidote to punishments interpreted as too lenient. Extralegal violence, or “popular justice,” as many southerners described it, also served the purpose of protecting the victim and her family from further public dishonor....

  5. 1 The Italian Language Press and the Creation of an Italian Racial Identity
    (pp. 15-36)

    On April 2, 1927, Carlo Barsotti, the founder and owner of New York’sIl Progresso Italo-Americano (Italian American Progress ),was laid to rest in what was reported to be an exact replica of Rudolph Valentino’s coffin. In 1872, the twenty-two-year-old Pisan had arrived in the United States a poor immigrant, but by the time he died he had become one of the wealthiest and most influential leaders in the Italian immigrant community. Barsotti earned a lucrative living as a labor agent, or padrone, directing gangs of Italians on the railroads, ran as many as four lodging houses, and owned...

  6. 2 The Italian Language Press and Africa
    (pp. 37-56)

    A day after the brutal lynching of eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891,Il Progresso Italo-Americanopublished a letter on its front page written by an Italian American named Marchese. Marchese expressed outrage over the cruel work of the mob in New Orleans and added that his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, commiserated with the victims. Moreover, he expressed particular shock over how this could happen in a “civilized” nation such as America. Echoing a sentiment that prevailed throughout the Italian American press, Marchese concluded that the barbaric act of lynching might be expected inAfrica tenebrosa(dark, murky...

  7. 3 Native Americans, Asians, and Italian Americans: Constructions of a Multilayered Racial Consciousness
    (pp. 57-78)

    In 1891, roughly three months after the murder of eleven Italian men in New Orleans, Louisiana, six months after the U.S. military’s massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, and less than a year after the U.S. Census Bureau declared that the American frontier had been settled,Il Progresso Italo-Americanopublished an illuminating article titled “I Pelle Rossa” (The red skin) in its expanded Sunday supplemental edition. “Try to imagine the endless prairies and plains that stretch to the West of the populous cities of the United States,” Giuseppe Balbi wrote. “This is the home of the...

  8. 4 The Education of Italian Americans in Matters of Color
    (pp. 79-104)

    In March 1891, Wiley G. Overton became the first African American assigned to regular duty as a member of the Brooklyn police force. TheNew York Timesinterpreted Overton’s hiring as more of a political stunt than an earnest attempt to hire a black man, for his appointment came only after deliberate conversations between the mayor and police commissioner. Indeed, theTimessuggested that Overton acquired his position through the lobbying of a T. McCants Stewart, whom the newspaper described as “something of a politician.” Stewart’s agitation for his “brethren” had “enabled him to put several darkies into paying places.”¹...

  9. 5 Defending Italian American Civility, Asserting Whiteness
    (pp. 105-128)

    In 1909, theCitizen,a Santa Rosa, California, newspaper, published statistics listing individuals arrested for public drunkenness. The data were arranged according to group identity, and the paper separated what it called “the white majority” from “Italians” and “ Indians.” The Reverend J.M. Cassin of California was so incensed by the paper’s characterization of Italians that he wrote a letter to another Santa Rosa newspaper, thePress Democrat,expressing his surprise and anger that Italians were not considered part of the white race. Declaring this an “insult towards Italians,” Cassin sarcastically chided the author of the article by noting, “Italy...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 129-134)

    Following in the footsteps ofprominentisuch as Carlo Barsotti, Generoso Pope purchasedIl Progresso Italo-Americanoin 1928 for a little more than $2 million. He proceeded to amass an impressive media empire of newspapers and radio stations, including purchasing New York City’sBolletino della Seraand WHOM, using these instruments to exhort Italians to learn English, naturalize, and register to vote.¹ Although Pope’s stature increased within the community and city, over the next few decades the importance of the Italian language press lessened. With immigration restriction preventing a new influx of Italians, along with a maturing second and third...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 135-162)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 163-171)
  13. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 172-172)