Thursday, January 05, 2012

Demographic Map of 1919 New York City During the First Red Scare

In 1919 the New York City Police Department mapped out the various ethnic neighborhoods of the city.  The effort was part of a push to monitor anti-American/criminal/undesirable elements of society.  During the days of the First Red Scare much of the justified fear of revolution and anarchy was inflamed into plain old bigotry, sometimes with deadly results.  In non-deadly cases various groups pushed with tighter monitoring of "hyphenated Americans" as opposed "regular Americans" aka White, Anglo-(or)-Saxon, Protestants.

The New York Times blog has a zoomable digital copy of the NYPD's map.  Popular stereotypes of the various ethnic groups labelled on the map help explain why they were charted out.  Germans (Kraut spies), Russian Jews (Commies), and Italians (mobsters) are the first three groups on the map.  Other groups leave me wondering why they were even bothered with: Scandinavians (blondes a big threat in the 1910s?) and French (I seriously do not know why the French were feared).

The Times' blogger points out that ethnic mapping continues to be very controversial.  The FBI recently received harsh negative press for its geographical monitoring of American Muslim communities.  What many people ignore; however, is that normal census data can be and is used to do detailed racial, social, and economic mapping for police departments, academics, and even private companies to name just a few.

2 comments:

Yosef said...

Generally a nice break-down of ethnicities on the map. I'm wondering as a Jew, though: Does the category "Russian Jews" only include those Ashkenazi (European north of the Mediterranean) Jews coming from the Russian Empire, or also those Ashkenazi Jews coming from Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Romania? If only from the Russian Empire, would the German Jews be included among the "Germans" and the Austro-Hungarian Jews among the "Austro-Hungarians"? And would Sephardic/Oriental Jews coming from the Balkans, Turkey, and Syria be included amongst the "Syrians, Turks, Armenians, Greeks"?

Catholicgauze said...

Hi Yosef,
Good question. I *think/guess* that the NYPD was only interested in Jews from the old Russian Empire because of the whole fear of Bolshevism at the time.