Why were Italians discriminated against so harshly in the early twentieth century?

Here’s the link

Click to get the page in question.

Not really, given that Franklin was an ambassador who spent quite a bit of time in Europe and mentions in his diaries meeting officials of all nations, including Swedes.

My guess is that by “swarthy” he just meant that Swedes (like other Scandinavians and Slavs, including the Russians whom he also mentions) tan better than what he called “the lovely White and Red” of the Anglo-Saxon types. And yeah, more northerly and/or sunny countries than the notoriously misty British Isles do tend to have more tannable populations, even today.

But when was he an ambassador in Europe? Was it prior to writing that essay?

My father immigrated here (from Greece, not Italy) in 1910. When he married my mother, his race was left blank on the marriage license. (My mother, born here, and of German and Irish extraction, was listed as ‘White’). This probably wasn’t a reflection of any official rules, just an example of arbitrariness in such matters: the clerk in the small Appalachian town may not have been familiar with Greeks, who were much less numerous there than Italians.

I was born around 1960. I can remember some minor prejudice growing up there, but miniscule compared to what Black people faced, and nothing official. Pretty much everyone assumed I was Italian. If I told them I was Greek, they shrugged and said, “Same thing”.

No, you’re right, the essay substantially pre-dated Franklin’s Europe trips. However, it was written after Franklin had lived more than two decades in Philadelphia, which was at the time a pretty “cosmopolitan” city by colonial American standards with quite a number of immigrants from various places in Europe, especially Germany.

So I’m still pretty sure that Franklin had actually seen German, Russian and Swedish people, among others, before writing that essay.

ETA: Yup:

At the bottom of the pile, unskilled laborers are in competition for jobs with other unskilled laborers. The Irish-Americans hated the Black-Americans and the Italian-Americans and were hated in return.

Because they were both Catholic, Irish young men and Italian young men were also both in competition for young women, so literature is replete with stories about young Italian men sneaking into church or dance halls and getting beaten up and thrown out. Very similar to West Side story, where the conflict is between ‘Tony’ (Italian) and the family of “Maria” (Puerto Ricoan)

(Even without your additional quote) Philadelphia was founded in what was formerly the colony of New Sweden. I expect there were far more Swedes there than in any of the other colonies.

Didn’t read anything prior. My grandfather hated racial bigotry against blacks. You would be punished for using the n-word around him. Italians? He hated them until the day he died.

No good excuse for it, and I’m not excusing his behavior, but according to him it had to do with their insularity and the way they looked out for each other instead of joining the larger community. I’m glad he died before I married an Italian girl and had a half-Italian child. :slight_smile:

Which brings up another story that this thread sparked in my memory. I was a kid and had done some genealogy research and showed it to my grandmother. My grandfather was in the basement. She told me that we HAD to go downstairs and tell him that my research had shown that he had “Italian blood in him.” She giggled at the prospect.

So, I played along and he was visibly angry and jerked the materials out of my hand and said that “them books can’t be right.” He wasn’t in the mood for even joking about it.

Do I recall correctly that you’re in/from Clarksburg/Bridgeport?

EVERYONE there has Italian blood.

Many do…not EVERYONE.

About Germans not being considered white, look at these lines from “Unguarded Gates”, a 1895 poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of the Atlantic Monthly:

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng–
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
To leave the gates unguarded?

…remember that Italians were associated with vicious organized crime.

This. I’m surprised no one else has even mentioned it. The Wikipedia entry on American mafia has a lot of information that points in this direction.

…Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of the Atlantic Monthly…

What an asshole! :grinning:

See composer Florence Price (1887-1953) for a good example of that - mixed-race but passed as Mexican, claiming she was from “Pueblo, Mexico”.

What was so special about the ‘Saxon Germans’ (in Franklin’s piece) compared to other German speaking peoples?

The British royal family was from Saxony (and still ruled Saxony). Not smart to insult them.

There’s a reason the English are called Anglo-Saxons.

And England in French is Angleterre…

The “pure white” Angles and Saxons overran the pesky Celts and settled Britain after the Romans left. Even up to WWII Hitler was surprised the English would pick a fight with their brother Germans; especially just over a piece of paper like a treaty with France, even though they’d done it before in WWI

Even Italians - I’m told by some Italians that there’s a definite disdain between the northern Italians, who can sometime be blond and pale and resemble their Germanic northern neighbours - vs the swarthy southern Italians and especially Sicilians - the usual racist tripe about them being dark, smelly, stupid etc. Mostly it was because they were poor and migrating north for the industrial jobs. these same southern Italians are the ones that emigrated in large numbers to North America - also in search of jobs and a better life.

Northern and Southern Italy have very different histories.

The Lombards, who were Germanic, settled in Northern Italy and had a lasting influence there.

Southern Italy and particularly Sicily had a complex history of being ruled by Arab Muslims, Greek Byzantines, and Normans, amongst others.

My very aged MIL is of northern Italian heritage. Her parents came to the USA shortly before she was born. She is quite certain she’s completely unrelated to Those People from southern Italy. Not connected racially, culturally, or linguistically. When she’s really feeling her racists oats her family is actually from just over the boarder in Switzerland. Despite the Italian names and native languages. Sure Mom, whatever you say.

This isn’t something new as she’s becoming increasingly feeble-minded with old age; her attitude to Those People has been there since I met her 40 years ago and to all reports was the standard issue attitude in their family back to their arrival in the USA. I don’t think she’s at all unique in her views.