The Nature, Reasoning And Implementation Of The Prohibition In Mississippi
Despite the contentious topic of the Prohibition within Mississippi, it was a significant method of oppression in which social and cultural minorities suffered. An individual’s cultural identity proves to be tantamount in evolving historical interpretations regarding the area of debate. The addition of modern contextual values such as equality and access to new evidence has compelled an overwhelming and homogenous perception following the era, that regards it as discriminatory legislation. The Prohibition within the United States, saw the transportation, selling and manufacturing of alcohol outlawed on the 3rd of December 1917. Amended on the 5th of December 1932, the Congress allowed individual states the choice of continuing with the ban or legalising these three aspects once again. Despite majority of states proceeding to abolish the restrictions, Mississippi is notorious for being the final state to demolish the constitution in 1966, forty-nine oppressive years later. The southern state of Mississippi is memorable for its engrained historical cultivation of prejudice and conservative ideas against many minority groups within society. In particular, the severe persecution of African Americans has been embedded throughout the southern culture and consequently, reduced the livelihood within the substantial population of black Americans. As a result, the Prohibition served to harass the cultural group, German Americans, alcoholics, non-Christian individuals and sought to give inequitable benefits to the Christian community.
The prohibition to a significant extent, enabled and nurtured the prolonged racist and discriminatory attitudes towards African Americans. The historical past of Africans rights being violated and abused for slavery purposes, have forever haunted the minority as the prejudice and ‘inferior’ attitudes possessed by white people have compelled a relentless persecution. Although the laws of the Prohibition were implemented for all cultures co-habituating within the broader society, supporting reasons for Mississippi’s restrictions on alcohol were distorted and corrupt in blaming African Americans. As Hanes Walton JR and James E Taylor express their disapproval for the Prohibition to have unjustly exploited this minority within their 1971 journal article ‘Blacks and the Southern Prohibition Movement’. Within, they reveal that many Southern newspapers and individuals claimed that “Blacks” who were compliant and docile, became “a menace to life, property and the response of the community” when intoxicated. As a result, it highlights the utilisation of the severely oppressed cultural group in order to, solely accuse them for the need to implement the Prohibition. Thus, by reinforcing this perspective within society, Mississippi was able to dissolve the reality of alcohol issues within the community and additionally, further degrade African Americans in the process. In relation, the article elaborates in highlighting that many Northern state newspapers asserted the viewpoint that the “underlying motive of the South prohibition movement was to suppress Negroes.” Consequently, this statement proves crucial in that even fellow American states also support the concept that the restriction of alcohol was a movement that aimed to oppress the minority. More specifically, the extent in which the black community was persecuted throughout the restricted time period is evident within the 2017 Netflix film ‘Mudbound’. The contrast in characterisation of the African American Ronsel and white American Jamie, clearly alludes to the shameful and submissive attitude exhibited within the Mississippian state towards the African Americans following the first World War. Ironically, both veterans return from the war in which Jamie transitions to an alcoholic amidst the Prohibition. His rhetorical statement to Ronsel “Who me? I’m a saint” incorporates irony to ridicule society’s regard for Jamie to be ‘respectable’ in spite of his alcoholism, whilst Ronsel continues to be a victim of oppression. Thus, the film assists the modern audience in perceiving the unlawful persecution and forged reasoning for African Americans causing the need for such alcohol restrictions. Therefore, it becomes evident that the Prohibition movement throughout Mississippi and neighbouring Southern states was an extreme method and effort to further exploit and tyrannise African Americans.
In relation to the Prohibition persecuting African Americans, it undeniably crippled German migrants financially, who obtained majority of the breweries across the nation. The implementation and timing of the Prohibition in 1917, is suspicious in that it outlawed the entire occupation that was dominated by German Americans and provided them with a livelihood. The legislation was passed amidst the first World War and therefore, it is transparent that the movement served as a methodology that enabled racist attitudes to infiltrate and target the German minorities within American society. The ban of the manufacture, transportation and selling of alcohol, was a direct and discriminatory threat for the German breweries and their ‘newly’ outlawed occupation. As a result, the Prohibition was oppressive in order to significantly reduce the German population and influence throughout society, in response to the two nations opposing sides during the war. World War I saw the perception of Germany deteriorate within the United Sates, as relentless propaganda indoctrinated citizens in forming prejudice and racist beliefs about the ‘enemy’. However, the Prohibition movement was evidently vulnerable to the contextual influences and thus, the Temperance group utilised the ‘convenient’ reasoning of war, to promote and momentarily achieve it. In spite of the detrimental consequences and unfair discrimination this had against multicultural races such as Germans, the oppression enabled the United States and Mississippi to receive the economic and financial profits associated with owning breweries. As a result of the governments inheritance and control over the industry, it becomes transparent that the Prohibition was implemented to both oppress the German minorities, however, also condone governments to increase their wealth through the industry’s financial benefits. Despite Patrick O’Daniel’s 2018 book ‘Crusaders, Gangsters, & Whiskey’ specifically referencing Memphis, it remains relevant to Mississippi in revealing that the Prohibition made significant “efforts against saloons and groceries” run and owned by Germans. In relation, O’Daniel elaborates further in that he reinforces the aim of law enforcements and Prohibitionists were to “disenfranchise these immigrants by destroying their political and social networks.” As a result, the implementation of the Prohibition within Mississippi was a significant oppression of German minorities in response to the World War and additionally, allowed the government to access the financial benefits from the brewery industry.
Despite targeting various cultural minorities, the Prohibition extensively promoted the condemning and persecution of alcoholics through denied support within Mississippian society. Temperance activists claimed that the movement would ‘energise political reform, promote community welfare, and improve public health’, as these ideals became increasingly prominent and widely promoted. Although, these claims morphed into discrimination as popular fiction theatre consistently “portrayed drinkers as flawed characters” with the condemning of any individuals that consumed alcohol. Prior to the implementation of the 18th Amendment, a ‘Scientific Temperance Instruction’ was incorporated within the school curriculum in which, it served as an attempt to indoctrinate the younger generations. Consequently, children were submersed with the ‘benefits’ of abstaining from alcohol whilst encouraging them to despise rather than empathise, with individuals affected by their consumption. Temperance Movement activist Mary Hunt supported the damaging portrayal of alcoholics with her unsupported statement that concluded “degradation and crime result from alcohol”. Her authority granted her the ability to accept or reject children’s textbooks entirely dependent on the representation of alcohol. As a result, she accepted and allowed many textbooks to portray “drinkers as flawed characters”. Norman H. Clark’s 1965 ‘The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington’ regards Hunt’s campaign and temperance education as “institutionalized prohibitionist propaganda”. His suggestion that the Temperance activists sought to indoctrinate rather than assist alcoholics further accentuates the neglect and demoralising Prohibitionist attitudes towards the minority. Despite their earlier concerns of promoting community welfare, the movement merely excluded and condemned alcoholics rather than helping address the numerous issues that are consequently associated. However, the introduction of the Prohibition was both oppressive and habitual to alcoholics as the inebriating liquid remained readily available to an illegal extent. Once the abstaining from alcohol was adopted by the United States, majority of asylums and help-services withered away. However, a surviving rehabilitation centre known as the ‘Keely Institute’, had 1921 advertisement that stated, “The Beautiful Romance of life never blooms in the morass liquid or drug addiction.” The accompanying illustration of a stereotypical white and privileged woman sitting on her veranda with her baby, only utilised the promotion of the idolised and traditional, American family, as a method of further degrading alcoholics. Thus, the Prohibition was a direct method of oppression towards the disadvantaged alcoholics within the Mississippian society. The temperance movement portrayed them as ‘evil’ rather than maintaining their previous claim to assist in improving both the public health and welfare within Mississippi and the wider nation.
Despite the significant oppression placed on the minority groups within Mississippi, the Prohibitionists gave certain societal sectors, privileges that exempted them from the law. Religious, industrial and scientific purposes remained immune to the 18th Amendment as alcohol was considered to have a critical and sacred role that in return, allowed for the continuation of its purchase. However, the exclusion for religious purposes was highly challenged as it was perceived to favour and unfairly reward the religious individuals within society. Additionally, research into cookbooks and etiquette manuals revealed that many of the Prohibitionist supporters and advocators (majority who were middle-aged women) did not abstain from alcohol themselves. Rather, Murdock Catherine Gilberts 1988 historical review ‘Domesticating Drink: Women, Men, and Alcohol in America, 1870–1940’ reveals that society was merely “forging the domestic consumption of alcohol” instead of completely ceasing consumption. Thus, the hypocritical nature of the constitutional law and Temperance Movement is highlighted. Furthermore, the evangelical figure Carrie Nation, metaphorically compared herself to a “bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn’t like”. However, it can be perceived that oppressing various cultural minorities, persecuting alcoholics and placing entitlements for the Christian community contradicts the praised morals of Christianity. Therefore, the Prohibition within Mississippi was to a large extent a method of oppression for cultural sectors, however additionally, was a corrupt time period which saw the Christian community receive unjustifiable privileges. If the Prohibition did believe in its purpose and implementation within Mississippi, then it prompts the questioning of ‘how did Prohibitionists believe that entrenched drinking habits would decease and bring future abstinent community members when they themselves were still drinking?’ Political turbulence during the end of the first decade saw a growing socialist movement and intense interaction between capitalists and workers, that reduced the radical nature of the Prohibition, ultimately assisting in its popularity. Moreover, the momentous wealth and influence of Christianity allowed the movement to be widely supported, with many religious individuals realising the benefits they would inherit from the movement. As a result, the overwhelming majority counteracted cultural and alternate religious groups through their support of the Prohibition that consequently, persecuted others within society. Therefore, the movement was not limited in its corrupt oppression of minorities however, it also succeeded in manipulating legislation to give entitlements to Christians.
The Prohibitions initial aims of restricting alcohol consumption in order to reduce offences within Mississippi consequently, had an opposite effect which resulted in the extensive persecution of minorities. Prohibitionist activists believed there was a direct correlation between the consumption of alcohol and crime in Mississippi. Although, the alcohol restrictions and the contextual influences of the ‘Jazz Age’ only contributed to an increase in criminal activity, as the danger associated with moonshine and its illegality, served as a catalyst for drinking. Restrictions regarding alcohol only made criminal activity become ever-more creative and proficient, as illegal ‘Moonshiners’ invented ‘Cow shoes’ that saw wooden blocks conceal their tracks from Prohibition agents. Additionally, the extent to which illegal activity during the Prohibition was occurring only evolved at a considerable rate, as fashion (especially women’s) was adapted in order to smuggle and transport intoxicating liquids. On the contrary, the Mississippi governor (from 1920-1924) Lee M. Russell implies that the Prohibition was successful in its objective within his public statement that “crime was reduced [by] at least eighty percent”. However, his lack of statistical evidence counteracts his claim and reduces its reliability as his status of governor, obliges him to be bias and supportive in promoting the Prohibition. In comparison, former Assistant US Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt (who had been head of Prohibition Prosecutions) revealed in 1929 that alcohol could be readily purchased “at almost any hour of the day or night, either in rural districts, the smaller towns, or the cities.” Therefore, emphasising the flourishing criminal activity of illegally brewing alcohol such as moonshine which ultimately, disproves Russell and reveals the Prohibitions failure to oppress the criminal organisations within society. Professor emeritus of 20th-century American history at the University of Gloucester Neil Wynn, further challenges the Prohibition viewpoint in highlighting that alcohol was not the singular and major contributor to crime. With the exposure of how various politicians, judges, “poorly paid federal agents and police were susceptible to corruption”. Therefore, the Temperance belief that alcohol was solely responsible for an increase in criminal rate is disproven. In reality, the crime rate within Mississippi was not reliant and dictated by alcohol consumption but rather, corrupt and dishonest members of law enforcement and status. As a consequence, the Prohibition failed in its main objective- reducing the criminal rate however, succeeded in persecuting the various other social and cultural minorities.
In essence, the nature, reasoning and implementation of the Prohibition only served to persecute many already disadvantaged, cultural and social minorities within Mississippi. Evident through the discriminatory and corrupt reasoning for African Americans causing the need for a community-wide restriction on alcohol, and the persecution of German Americans in response to the first World War. As a consequence of the Mississippian and United States governments desire and ulterior motive to reap the economic benefits of breweries. The states choice in 1932 to prolong the Prohibition despite evidence and other states depicting the failure of the movement, exemplifies Mississippi’s alternate and racist reasoning that sought to disadvantage many minority groups. Previous United States President (from 1929-1933) Herbert Hoover, admittedly described the Prohibition as “a great social and economic experiment” and thus, the fragility, flawed nature and implementation of the movement is highlighted. In addition, the disregard and neglection of alcoholics and Prohibitionists utilisation of control in order to offer exclusive benefits to Christians, further supports the corrupt reasoning and religious facade for the restrictions. In return, the Prohibition was to a significant extent, a prolonged method of oppression within Mississippian society.
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