Learn American History through 50 pop songs

The Roaring Twenties


The Roaring Twenties is a phrase used to describe the 1920s in America. The phrase was meant to emphasize the period's social, artistic, and cultural dynamism.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

Church bells rang out today across the land
The Noble Experiment, a step beyond temperance began
No more liquor sold or manufactured
It’s 1920 and prohibition is at hand

“Things gonna change now”, Preacher man preached
The slums’ll be a memory, salvation’s within reach
Our prisons will be factories our local jails history
With new found self esteem our re-born men will teach

But it didn’t take long for folks to find another way
Bootleggin’ their liquor or just makin’ it homemade
And with gangsters takin’ over, speakeasies on each corner
People started screaming for the good ole legal drinking days

Things are changing, oh yes they are
War’s all done, the 1920s, Roaring Twenties, have come

Today I took a trip like I never have before
In a horseless carriage made by Mr. Henry Ford
Model T’s, Model A’s, 300 bucks ain’t much to pay
A price that even everyday Joe’s like me can easily afford

And now we got a radio right in our living room
After dinner every night we all gather round and in we tune
To a wild western show or live baseball play by play
The news around the world or our favorite singers croon

Things are changing, oh yes they are
War’s all done, the 1920s, Roaring Twenties, have come

A brand new sound floated around, kids were calling it jazz
It came with styles and crazes like nothing we’d ever had
We shimmied, danced the Charleston, and did the Lindy Hop
We were young, having fun being part of this new jazz fad

Girls were smoking cigarettes with short dresses and shorter hair
On the streets, in the clubs were happy flappers everywhere
Dancing and laughing to a backdrop of jazz
And Era of Wonderful Nonsense filled the air

Sir Duke Ellington led his band sophisticated smooth
And waxing deeply poetic was Mr. Langston Hughes
Who told the black experience with words made out of gold
With a pen he dug himself a Harlem Renaissance groove

Things are changing, oh yes they are
War’s all done, the 1920s, Roaring Twenties, have come


Roaring Twenties— The Roaring Twenties is the term used for the 1920s in American. This decade has been portrayed as one of the most eventful decades with historic events including the soldiers returning from WWI and the birth of Jazz.

The Noble Experiment— The Noble Experiment, is the period from 1920-1933, during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned.

Temperance— A temperance movement is a social movement against the use of alcoholic beverages.

Prohibition— Prohibition of alcohol, or, prohibition, is a law which prohibits alcohol.

Henry Ford— Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was the American founder of the Ford Motor Company and father of modern assembly lines used in mass production.

Jazz— Jazz is a music genre that originated in the 1920’s in African American communities in the United States.

“We shimmied, danced the Charleston, and did the Lindy Hop”— These are three popular dances of the 1920’s. These dances as well as others dances of the 1920s demonstrated the euphoric sense of prosperity and freedom that society was feeling at the time.

Flappers— The term flappers in the 1920s referred to a "new breed" of young women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, and listened to jazz.

Era of Wonderful Nonsense— The 1920s era went by such names as the Jazz Age, the Age of Intolerance, and the Age of Wonderful Nonsense.

Duke Ellington— Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Duke Ellington became one of the most influential artists in the history of recorded music, and is largely recognized as one of the greatest figures in the history of jazz.

Langston Hughes— James Mercer Langston Hughes, (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best-known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem Renaissance— The Harlem Renaissance refers to the flowering of African American intellectual life during the 1920s and 1930s and was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

Name and explain 3 things that occurred during the 1920’s.

Tier 2 Questions

Write two letters to your congressman. One that supports prohibition and one that does not.

Tier 3 Questions

You are an owner of a jazz club in 1926. Create a poster to attract people to your club.

Test Prep Questions

1) The Harlem Renaissance promoted African American culture by

  • (1) increasing factory employment opportunities for minorities
  • (2) encouraging immigration from Africa
  • (3) focusing attention on artistic contributions
  • (4) bringing an end to legalized racial segregation

Mother to Son
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

—Langston Hughes, 1922

2) One purpose of this poem, written during the Harlem Renaissance, was to

  • (1) explain the advantages of inner-city life
  • (2) discuss ideas in the language used by immigrant Americans
  • (3) ask African Americans to accept things as they are
  • (4) encourage African Americans to continue their struggle for equality

“I, Too, Sing America”
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll sit at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

— Langston Hughes, 1926

3) This Langston Hughes poem illustrates a major theme of the Harlem Renaissance by

  • (1) supporting the creation of colleges operated by African Americans
  • (2) stressing the need for economic reform
  • (3) expressing the pride and hope of many African Americans
  • (4) detailing mistreatment of African Americans by the music industry

4) One goal of many Harlem Renaissance writers was to

  • (1) increase pride in African American culture
  • (2) support existing racial barriers
  • (3) cut off connections with mainstream American values
  • (4) encourage African

5) During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, African American authors and artists used literature and art to

  • (1) end segregation of public facilities
  • (2) promote affirmative action programs
  • (3) celebrate the richness of their heritage
  • (4) urge voters to elect more African Americans to political office

6) In the 1920s, both Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington made major contributions to

  • (1) economic growth
  • (2) educational reform
  • (3) the creative arts
  • (4) political leadership

7) The changing image of women during the 1920s was symbolized by the

  • (1) passage of an equal pay act
  • (2) drafting of women into the army
  • (3) popularity of the flappers and their style of dress
  • (4) appointment of several women to President Calvin Coolidge’s cabinet

8) The Harlem Renaissance was important to American society because it

  • (1) highlighted the cultural achievements of African Americans
  • (2) isolated African Americans from mainstream society
  • (3) provided new political opportunities for African Americans
  • (4) brought an end to racial segregation in the North
  • Teapot Dome Scandal
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Scopes trial

9) During which decade did these events occur?

  • (1) 1920s
  • (2) 1930s
  • (3) 1940s
  • (4) 1950s

10) Much of the economic growth of the 1920s was based on

  • (1) increased trade with other nations
  • (2) the production of new consumer goods
  • (3) rising prices of agricultural products
  • (4) the rapid development of the West

11) Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington are noted for their contributions to the cultural movement of the 1920s known as the

  • (1) Gospel of Wealth
  • (2) Lost Generation
  • (3) Harlem Renaissance
  • (4) Gilded Age

12) The works of Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes reflected the

  • (1) expanding role of women in the 1920s
  • (2) achievements of the Harlem Renaissance
  • (3) architectural innovations of the 1930s
  • (4) influence of southern European immigrant groups

13) What was a major result of Prohibition in the United States during the 1920s?

  • (1) restriction of immigration
  • (2) growth of communism
  • (3) destruction of family values
  • (4) increase in organized crime (4) freedom of religion

One Way Ticket
I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.
I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket
Gone Up North
Gone Out West

— Langston Hughes, 1926

14) The author states that he has “Gone” because

  • (1) jobs were available in northern industries
  • (2) there was no racial prejudice in the West
  • (3) farmland was more available in the North
  • (4) racial discrimination drove him away

15) Which generalization can best be drawn from the experiment with national Prohibition (1919–1933)?

  • (1) Social attitudes can make laws difficult to enforce.
  • (2) Americans resent higher taxes.
  • (3) Morality can be legislated successfully.
  • (4) People will sacrifice willingly for the common good.

16) The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s can best be described as

  • (1) an organization created to help promote African-American businesses
  • (2) a movement that sought to draw people back to the inner cities
  • (3) a relief program to provide jobs for minority workers
  • (4) a period of great achievement by African- American writers, artists, and performers

17) A result of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was the

  • (1) restoration of buildings and the infrastructure in New York City
  • (2) increased recognition of African-American writers and musicians
  • (3) end of racial segregation laws in New York State
  • (4) appointment of several African Americans as presidential advisor