The Cultural Pluralist Response to Americanization: Horace Kallen, Randolph Bourne, Louis Adamic, and Leonard Covello


Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. -- Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass.


Americanization constituted a Nativist movement dedicated to erasing the original cultures, and especially the languages, of the twenty-seven million New Immigrants (that is, the Italians and Eastern Europeans) who entered the United States from 1880 to 1920.1 The melting pot theory rationalized the coercive essence of Americanization by proposing that this approach would hasten the process of immigrants adopting the American culture, and also fostered a number of less explicit agendas, such as eradicating radical ideologies in America. Cultural pluralism, an intellectual movement that was neglected when it first emerged and suppressed during the McCarthy Era, countered the Americanization program and its melting pot theory by rejecting all efforts to coerce cultural minorities to assimilate.

The cultural pluralists documented the contributions of the immigrants and celebrated diversity. They insisted that ethnic minorities, while learning English, had a right to maintain and develop their original cultures. They viewed the immigrants’ own cultures as assets to US society, and disputed the claim that Americanization represented the best interests of either the immigrants or their new homeland. The cultural pluralists identified Americanization as a project of the Anglo-Saxon establishment, which was motivated by the goal of reinforcing its political and economic dominance. Cultural pluralism was a movement allied to political and philosophical tendencies – such as, Progressivism, the New Deal, and the Popular Front – which fought for a society that ensured cultural and economic rights as well as those rights of individuals already acknowledged in the Bill of Rights.

This essay explores the contributions of four important advocates of the cultural pluralist movement – Horace Kallen, Randolph Bourne, Louis Adamic, and Leonard Covello – who framed a response to the hegemonic melting pot theory and practice. We shall see how their efforts were intended to empower the most defenseless of all Americans – the foreign-born – as part of wider progressive movements, and how cultural pluralism was affected by the political repressions that followed the two World Wars.

Melting Pot Theory

The cultural pluralists labored against powerful forces. In the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt declared, “we have room for but one language here.... We intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse.”2 At Woodrow Wilson’s insistence, the Democratic Party’s 1916 platform denounced alleged “conspiracies” designed to advance “the interests of foreign countries,” and condemned ethnic associations as “subversive.”3 By 1924, powerful anti-immigrant movements had succeeded in obtaining the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act, which restricted immigration annually to quotas based on 2% of the number of each nationality residing in the United States at the time of the 1890 census, that is, prior to the great influx of Italian and Eastern European immigrants. This limited the number of immigrants from Italy to 5,802 per year, and set similarly small quotas for Eastern European nationalities; it admitted only minuscule numbers of Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans. 76% of the total annual quota was assigned to British, Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants.

The message sounded loud and clear: the United States welcomed those who most resembled its white population prior to the entry of the New Immigrants. Those who differed linguistically, culturally, religiously, and racially from the majority would be tolerated if their numbers were small and their willingness to quickly assimilate was large. In this way, US immigration laws imposed – on top of existing class and racial divisions – a hierarchy of nationalities, thereby adding a veritable caste system privileging “Anglo Saxons” (so-called Old Stock Americans and those coming from Northwest Europe) as opposed to the New Immigrants. The organizing principle of US immigration policy remained unchanged until October 3, 1965, when the McCarran-Walter Act set aside quotas based on national origin and replaced them with other criteria, thereby allowing for immigration from all regions of Europe as well as the other continents.4

The major mechanism for Americanization was the public school system. New York Superintendent of Schools William Maxwell declared in 1913 that the “great business of the department of education in this city [is] to train the immigrant child ... to become a good American citizen.” During this entire period, the curriculum contained large doses of what was termed civics; but the entire curriculum and institutional culture were intended to Americanize the students. In 1893, while visiting an elementary school in a New York City tenement district, Jacob Riis overheard children reciting a type of a pledge of allegiance to the flag that included the phrase, “one country, one language, one Flag!”5 The Americanizers viewed subtracting the original culture – and especially the first language – as preliminary to adding the American culture and the English language. In the New York City public school system, the use of any other language within or near the schools was forbidden.

Julia Richmond, a representative figure from the earlier immigration of German Jews, served as the Board of Education’s District Superintendent for the Lower East Side. She had teachers patrol lunchrooms, restrooms, and schoolyards, instructing them to give demerits to children overheard speaking the hated “jargon” of the Eastern European Jews, that is, Yiddish.6 One scholar of the immigrant experience has stated, “the main fuel for the American melting pot was shame. The immigrants were... taught to be ashamed of their own faces, their family names, their parents and grandparents, and their class patterns, histories, and life outlooks.”7 Overtly and covertly the schools sought to transform the immigrant children into “Americans” and prevent their parents and communities from replicating their cultures.

The educator Leonard Covello, who arrived in Italian Harlem from Southern Italy in 1896 at the age of nine, remembered that “throughout my whole elementary school career, I do not recall one mention of Italy or the Italian language or what famous Italians there were in the world, with the possible exception of Columbus.... We soon got the idea that ‘Italian’ meant something inferior, and a barrier was erected between children of Italian origin and their parents.... We were becoming Americans by learning how to be ashamed of our parents.” While he was in elementary school, one teacher without consulting his parents summarily changed his first name from Leonardo to Leonard and later another teacher changed his surname from Coviello to Covello. Leonard’s father had not reacted to the Anglicizing of his son’s first name, but when Leonard’s teacher changed his family name he protested. Leonard sided with the teacher and responded, “It’s more American.”8

In Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot, which was first performed in 1909, the protagonist makes a rousing speech in which he declares “America is God’s Crucible, the great melting-pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming!... German and Frenchman, Irishman and Englishman, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all. God is making the American.”9 Roosevelt, who sat next to Zangwill’s wife on opening night in Washington, praised the play, which confirmed his belief that “the man who becomes completely Americanized ... is doing his plain duty to his adopted land.”10 The “melting pot,” which connotes an amalgam brought about by a merging of all the nationalities in America, has served as the metaphor for Americanization. However, few noticed that the melting pot did not include – either in the play’s famous invocation or in practice – native-born Anglo-Saxon Protestants or, for that matter, African Americans or Native Americans.

Throughout American history, the melting pot has functioned as a smelting pot, where the immigrants’ languages and cultures flowed away as dross. The remaining molten mass could then be quickly and effortlessly shaped and imprinted by the dominant culture – without resistance.

From the beginning, leaders of the immigrant communities attacked the theory and practice of the melting pot. An article in a Chicago Polish-language publication denounced “American chauvinists [who defined] Americanism as only one language, unity of thought and opinion,” and compared this to the system of denationalization Prussia had imposed on its Polish minority. A Yiddish newspaper in Chicago rejected the effort to “fuse into one piece... the various nationalities.” It argued that “it is much better that [each] should treasure dearly the inheritance which they brought with them from the old world.”11 With some notable exceptions (for example, Jane Addams and other members of the settlement house movement), Americanization went largely unchallenged in the institutions and media of the native-born.12 The opponents of Americanization and its justification, the melting pot theory, were scattered and lacked an organizing concept around which to rally.

Horace Kallen

William James, who at the turn of the century advocated the development of different national groups within the boundaries of a common American civilization, was one of the first public figures from the dominant culture to question the assimilationist drive of the Americanizers.13 However, the first sustained integrated counterthesis to the melting pot thesis was presented in 1915 by a student of James, a young German-born Jewish intellectual, Horace Kallen. In a two-part article, “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot,” published in The Nation, he advocated that the United States become a “democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously in the enterprise of self-realization [utilizing] a common language... English.” Kallen posited that the United States was already “in the process of becoming a true federal state... a republic consisting of a federation or commonwealth of nationalities.”14 He based this position in part on the findings of the 1910 Census which showed that 51% of the people of the North Atlantic states and 48% of the people of the Western states were either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent.15 More than one-half the population in the North Central states (especially, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota) and the country’s larger cities was first- and second-generation American.16 Significantly, none of the responses to Kallen’s article questioned its most far-reaching assumption, that the United States had become de facto a multi-national state.

Kallen challenged the Americanizers by citing the progressive accomplishments of the immigrant groups, such as the establishment of secular schools by the Czechs in Chicago and the support of the Poles in the United States for the cause of an independent democratic Poland. What, he asked, would replace these activities when these groups assimilated? He also noted the inferior literary and cultural level of the commercial English-language newspapers that immigrants ultimately substituted for the newspapers published in their own languages, which were filled with relatively sophisticated political and cultural content.17 It was Kallen who first tagged the melting pot as a project of the dominant class; he argued that its purpose was to erase the immigrants’ cultures not because they were inferior but because “they cannot tolerate ‘difference.’”18

In opposition to the “melting pot,” Kallen proposed “the symphony of civilizations.” This metaphor expressed a vision of the United States based on the image of an orchestra where “every type of instrument has its specific timbre and tonality, founded in its substance and form; as every type has its appropriate theme and melody in the whole symphony, so in society each ethnic group is the natural instrument, its spirit and culture are its theme and melody, and the harmony and dissonances and discords of them all make the symphony of civilizations, [where] the playing is the writing... the range and variety of the harmonies may become wider and richer and more beautiful.”19 Today, while Zangwill’s metaphor is universally known and cited everywhere from high school text books to the most specialized scholarly works, Kallen’s counterpoint is rarely mentioned.

Kallen’s “the symphony of civilizations,” despite its apparent inclusiveness, excluded people of color – African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.20 Nonetheless, cultural pluralism naturally became allied to the antiracist movement. The melting-pot approach means that immigrants adopt the attitudes and beliefs of the dominant culture, and in the United States that means racism – a belief that few immigrants arrived with. Moreover, the assumption on the part of the cultural pluralists that immigrant groups were minorities deserving of certain protections and rights could only strengthen the position of African Americans – the largest and most oppressed minority – in their own struggle for equality.

Kallen was securely a part of the Progressive movement, but he was not a radical. The origins of his cultural pluralism sprang primarily from the dilemma of the secular Jews. Rejecting the Jewish religion while still identifying himself as a Jew, Kallen needed to construct an ideology that solidified a Jewish identity apart from a religious context. His proposal to preserve ethnic and cultural differences was allied to his devotion to Zionism.21 (Other Jews who supported cultural pluralism were attracted to the Reconstructionist movement.22) Kallen’s brand of cultural pluralism worked itself out into a variety of liberalism where diversity was viewed as essential for an “experimental” democracy that respected individual rights and diverse cultural values.23

Zionism was not the only instance where cultural and linguistic retention did not necessarily work out to the left. In the Italian American community, for example, both the prominenti and the agents of Fascism encouraged italianità as part of their overall strategy of bonding the Italian American masses to Mussolini’s regime.24 Orthodox Catholic churches sought to transmit the languages of origin to the American-born offspring of their parishioners as a way to perpetuate their religions.25 This longer-lasting effort at language retention also had no particular political outcome. The attempts of the Fascists and the Orthodox churches to sustain the cultures and languages of their groups bear only a superficial resemblance to cultural pluralism.

Cultural pluralism – as an ideology and a movement – was developed, propagated, and embraced by individuals and organizations identified with the left, who viewed the immigrants not as diasporic peoples inhabiting outposts of their motherlands, but rather as equal and needed participants in the ongoing project of building a more robust democracy in their adopted homeland.

Immigrants and the Left

In addition to matters of principle, the Left had strong practical reasons for wanting to sustain the integrity of immigrant communities. Almost exclusively, the New Immigrants derived from the proletarian and peasant classes. During the period 1880 to 1924, the percentage of immigrants listed as laborers ranged from a high of 80% in 1901 to a low of 35% in 1920; the percentage of farmers fluctuated within a narrower range of 20-30%; and the percentage of skilled workers ranged to a high of 20%.26 Throughout the entire period only minuscule numbers of proprietors and professionals were found among the millions of New Immigrants.

Beyond their proletarian status, the immigrants to varying extents experienced discrimination in their adopted land. This in itself predisposed them to the Left. Unlike native-born workers, their ties of nationality and language gave them an additional sense of solidarity. Moreover, overlapping patterns of culture/language, residence, and work increased group consciousness. Consequently, they were much more prone to trade unionism and radicalism than native-born citizens, and especially those workers derived from so-called “old-stock” families, who regardless of their class derived some psychological, social, and even economic benefits from their status as “native” Americans. More often than not, their sense of belonging to the dominant class immunized them from oppositional attitudes and actions. The greatest countervailing tendency to the Left was the pull of religion, which in all the immigrant groups had greater impacts on their lives in America than it did in their countries of origin. The ruling elite propagated Americanization because it sensed that the immigrant communities represented bases for opposition to unbridled capitalism.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the United States, during this entire period and spanning into the 1930s and ‘40s, all Left movements – anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, socialist, and communist – were, to a remarkable extent, based on immigrants and their American-born children. The Left at all times represented a minority – of various proportions – in the immigrant communities; however, almost without exception it constituted a larger minority than it did in the native-born sector of the American working class.27 Until the 1890s, the anarchist movement represented the predominant form of radicalism in the immigrant communities. For example, one study on Jewish anarchism concludes that in that community, in the period 1886-1890, it “emerged as the largest and certainly the most dynamic movement.”28 However, with the exception of Italian Americans, anarchism tended to be an exclusively first-generation phenomenon.29 One study of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) shows that, despite its reputation as a “native” American expression of radicalism, the foreign-born comprised a majority of its membership. In the Western states, 42% of the IWW’s membership was foreign-born and in the eastern cities it was predominantly foreign-born. Unable to vote and unwelcomed by most of the trade unions, radicalized immigrants gravitated naturally to the IWW.30 After its founding in 1901, the Socialist Party initially garnered its highest percentages of the votes in states with relatively few recent immigrants, such as, Oklahoma, Nevada, Montana, Washington, California, and Idaho. However, by 1919 the Socialist Party’s foreign-language federations provided a majority of its membership, and thereafter the loci of its much diminished strength (Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Reading, Pennsylvania; working class Jewish neighborhoods in New York City) were populated by first-generation immigrants or those close to them.31

Randolph Bourne

Randolph Bourne, who by the time of his death at 34 in 1918 had become one the greatest essayists of American letters, was the first important figure to expand upon Kallen’s thesis. Although he was a native-born son of native-born Anglo-Saxon parents, Bourne – whose face had been disfigured at birth and whose back was hunched as a consequence of spinal tuberculosis – identified with all, and most specifically the immigrants, who were marginalized by conventional society.

Bourne argued that the American people were confronted with two “ideals of American nationalism: the melting pot or the cooperation of cultures, that is, trans-nationalism.” In “Trans-national America,” published in 1916 by the Atlantic Monthly, Bourne identified Americanization as a project of the “Brahmins” who “insisted that the aliens be forcibly assimilated to the Anglo-Saxon tradition they label Americanism ... in order to impose its own culture upon the minority people.” He derided the Americanizers’ cultural goals by declaring that the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons maintained a “tenacious cultural allegiance to England. English snobberies are their cultural food.... [Culturally] the United States is a self-governing dominion of the British Empire.” He asserted that the optimistic individualism of New England – that is, the culture of Emerson and company – was exhausted, and that the other “purely American region,” the South, provided no model for a viable American culture. In this sense, the Americanizers were foisting on the immigrants an inauthentic American culture, because no genuine American culture yet existed.32 Starting with Bourne, cultural pluralists concurred on the dual purposes of Americanization: the disempowerment of cultural minorities, and the bonding of the “Anglo-Saxon” workers to the dominant class.

Bourne, in the process of uncovering the political implications of cultural pluralism, underscored its inherent critique of the dominant culture. He categorized the melting pot as a component of the ideology of a ruling class that wishes to “assimilate all European [immigrants]... to the prevailing Anglo-Saxon [culture].”33 Like Kallen, Bourne asserted that the foreign cultures had remained distinct but cooperative, and had not been melted down or run together into some homogeneous Americanism. Why, he asked, should anyone propose that the immigrant cultures be replaced by “tasteless, colorless conformity?”34 However, unlike Kallen, who advocated the indefinite preservation of the immigrant cultures, Bourne and subsequent cultural pluralists (ultimately, including Kallen) equally opposed cultural and ethnic parochialism.35

Bourne asserted that the American nationality was a work in progress and that the United States had the potential to become “the first international nation,” where individuals could construct a cosmopolitan identity that mediated consent- and descent-identities.36 This proposition is link to his notion of “transnationalism,” according to which cultural minorities are inextricably involved in a reciprocal relationship with their countries or regions of origin. Transnationalism is the opposite of American nationalism; it is an ideology of nations interacting as equals, as opposed to one which seeks dominance and gain at the expense of other nations. To the American ruling groups, transnationalism seemed little different from internationalism, a key component of socialist politics. By drawing out the political implications of cultural pluralism, Bourne showed why those with power and wealth would oppose it completely (or support it only in its most eviscerated forms).

The post-World War I political reaction submerged cultural pluralism for a decade. Before he died at the age of thirty-two in 1918, Bourne had been effectively silenced. In 1917, his antiwar essays – which forevermore reminded his readers, “War is the health of the state!” – caused the demise of the influential literary journal, The Seven Arts. The other major venue for his essays, the cultural-political monthly, The Masses, also ceased publication when, in response to its antiwar stance, the Attorney General invoked the Espionage Act of 1917 as a way to revoke its second-class mailing privileges.37

Even more ominous to this fledgling movement was the rise of a virulent Nativist movement. By 1921, more than thirty states as well as hundreds of cities and towns had enacted Americanization laws. Local school systems, employers, unions, and over one hundred private organizations as well as several federal and state agencies, initiated Americanization classes disguised as English and civics classes.38 Although originally directed against the German language, the Nativist tide led to widespread prohibitions of the teaching of all foreign languages in the public schools. Throughout the twenties, the Ku Klux Klan, which by 1924 had attracted five million members, focused its ritualized hatred on the foreign-born and Catholics.39

Cultural Pluralism and the Popular Front

The Popular Front created a context within which cultural pluralism became securely attached to the Left. Fascist attacks on minorities in Germany, Eastern Europe, Spain, and elsewhere motivated the Left in the United States to prioritize the cause of cultural pluralism. Popular Front culture in literature, movies, and music depicted racial and ethnic minorities as components of a nascent egalitarian pluralist society.40 As Paul Buhle has put it, artists associated with the Popular Front “conceived of a democratized American culture in which a variety of themes could be seriously and popularly portrayed in radical terms.”41 Within this hegemonic Left milieu, cultural pluralism gained widespread acceptance in education and the social sciences.

On the Left, it was the Communist Party that most thoroughly and persistently promoted cultural pluralism. This had something to do with the Communist movement’s hegemony within the Popular Front. Additionally the concentration of the Party’s influence in the immigrant communities in the United States42 and the Soviet Union’s successes in creating a multi-ethnic state contributed to its prominence in the various manifestations of cultural pluralism. Throughout the 1920s, 90% of its membership was foreign-born. It was not until the late 1930s that as many as one-half its membership was American-born, and most of this cohort was second-generation Americans.43 The Communist Party’s mass base in the immigrant communities was consolidated through a remarkably integrated infrastructure. The International Workers Order (IWO), a fraternal benefit society founded by the Party in 1930, organized into fourteen nationality and one “General” (that is, English-speaking) sections that offered low-cost insurance policies. The IWO’s membership peaked in 1947 at 185,000 men and women organized into over two thousand lodges.44 The Party’s foreign-language press, which was published in more than twenty languages, reached a circulation in 1944 of 400,000, which far exceeded that of its English-language publications.45 In 1933, the Party also founded the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, a national organization which strove to influence public opinion, lobby legislators, assist those applying for citizenship, and most crucially provide legal help in deportation cases.46

The Communist Party countered ethnocentricity and cultural nationalism within the IWO by engaging its lodges and the Party’s foreign-language newspapers in activities around Negro History Week and in campaigns to save the Scottsboro Boys and later Angelo Herndon. There was reciprocity in the relationships between the communities of leftist ethnic groups and African Americans. William Patterson, who later became the National Executive Secretary of the Civil Rights Congress, joined the Communist Party in response to his involvement in the campaign organized by the International Labor Defense to save Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.47 Of course, the Party encouraged all its members and supporters, among other things, to participate in May Day parades, help build the CIO, and support the Spanish Republic.

Of great importance to the vastly enhanced status of cultural pluralism was the 1930 Census, whose results contradicted the assumption that the immigration laws of 1920 and 1924 had resolved the “immigrant question.” These census data showed that compared to 1920 the number of foreign-born from Europe had actually slightly increased and the number of Americans with at least one European-born parent had increased by almost three million. (This paradoxical outcome resulted from any number of factors including: the gradual implementation of the restrictive immigration laws, which did not come into full force until 1929; the vastly increased propensity of immigrants to remain in the United States once re-entry became problematical; and a vast increase in the number of immigrants entering the country illegally.) The Census Bureau’s infelicitous term “foreign white stock” – that is, the foreign born (12.7%) and those who had a least one foreign-born parent (23.5%) from Europe or Canada – comprised 36.2% of the total white population of the United States.48 In New York City 73% of the population was “foreign white stock,” in Chicago 64%, Philadelphia 50%, Cleveland 65%, Boston 71%, Detroit, San Francisco, and Minneapolis-St. Paul 57%.49 These numbers substantiated the key contention of the cultural pluralists, that the United States was de facto a culturally pluralistic nation.

The national and racial minorities became welcomed components of the trade union movement and the New Deal coalition. Indeed, the New Deal was to a remarkable extent based on the mobilization of ethnic groups and African Americans. This process began with the candidacy of Alfred E. Smith in 1928, which brought about a massive influx of Catholic ethnic voters into the Democratic Party. In Chicago, for example, from 1924 to 1928, the Democratic Party’s vote increased among Polish Americans from 35% to 71%, and among Italian Americans from 19% to 63%. In response to the Nativist and racist reaction engendered by Smith’s candidacy, the Democratic Party’s Jewish vote increased from 31% to 63%.50 By 1936, African Americans had switched en masse from “The Party of Lincoln” to the Democratic Party, and the percentages of European ethnics voting Democrat rose spectacularly. In 1936, 85% of Irish Americans, 91% of Jewish Americans, and 88% of Italian Americans voted for FDR. The New Deal coalition was not so much a working-class coalition as a movement of largely proletarianized ethnic groups, Jews of all classes, and African Americans. In the somewhat anomalous 1940 election, only 33% of urban voters with above-average income supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt; but 57% of Irish Americans with above-average income and 80% of Jews with above average-incomes voted for Roosevelt.51 In the 1948 presidential election, the New Deal coalition persisted: nationality groups and African Americans voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats while a large majority of white, native-born Protestants voted Republican.52

Louis Adamic

Louis Adamic, who has been aptly described as a “curiously neglected figure largely forgotten even by his unknowing disciples,” is the public intellectual most closely identified with this high point of cultural pluralism. Within a short time after arriving in the United States in 1913 at the age of fourteen, Adamic began contributing to the Slovenian-language press. After serving in the United States Army, he started to write in English.53 His advocacy for the oppressed and the clear prose of his first book, Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, foreshadowed his large corpus devoted to the immigrants, their children, and their communities.54

The thrust of Adamic’s approach to cultural pluralism is captured by his insistence that “in the past there has been entirely too much giving up, too much melting away and shattering of the various cultural values of the new groups.” Echoing Kallen and Bourne, Adamic insisted that the “Americanized foreigner became a cultural zero paying lip service to the U.S., which satisfied the Americanizers.” In place of Americanization, he proposed “Americanism,” which would make a “central educational and cultural effort... toward accepting, welcoming, and exploiting diversity.”55 Echoing Bourne, Adamic suggested that the United States had the unique “opportunity to create a great culture... which could approach being universal or pan-human and more satisfying to the human make-up than any culture that has yet appeared under the sun.”56

“Thirty Million New Americans,” published in Harper’s Monthly in 1934, outlined the themes that characterized his approach throughout his career. His diagnosis of the problems of the second generation became his major contribution to the theory of cultural pluralism. Americanization, he insisted, caused second-generation Americans to experience feelings of inferiority based on their parents’ second-class citizenship, which consigned them to the worst jobs and the worst sections of the cities and towns. “They were called Hunkies or Bohunks, Dagoes or Wops, Polacks or Litvaks, Sheenies or Kikes. They were frequently – and unavoidably – discriminated against.” According to Adamic, the parents were in a better position than their children to remain unscathed by Nativist contempt, because they could “take refuge in their racial and cultural backgrounds.” The children, who knew nothing of their parents’ culture, “break away from the homes of their immigrant parents, and eventually repudiate entirely their origins.” Some of these “New Americans become chauvinistically patriotic, others become actively antisocial.” The majority, according to Adamic, “segregated themselves,” and “just hang back from the main stream of life in this country, forming a tremendous mass of neutral, politically dead citizenry.”

Adamic’s proposed remedy was not larger doses of Americanization but rather efforts to “inspire in them some respect for what it meant to be a Finn, a Slovenian, a Serbian, a Croatian, a Slovak, a Czech ... make them conscious of their backgrounds and heritage.” In short, the schools, libraries, and settlement houses must understand, “it is impossible and, what is more, undesirable to make the offspring of Lithuanians or Serbians into Anglo-Saxons, the aim should be rather to help them become real men and women on the pattern of their own natural cultures.”57 The publication in 1938 of My America, Adamic’s semi-autobiographical account of his first ten years in the United States, established his pre-eminence as an advocate for cultural democracy in America. In its introduction, he demanded, “Ellis Island must become as much the symbol of the United States as Plymouth Rock, [because] the coming of peoples to this continent, voluntarily or in chains, is at the very center of our historical process.”58 Adamic’s importance to cultural pluralism sprang from his ability to popularize these ideas to enormous audiences. His writings (which included translations into nine languages) numbered more than 570 titles. The Native’s Return was selected as a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, and My America went through ten English-language printings.59

Adamic also devoted tremendous energy to the creation of an organization devoted to elaborating, disseminating, and perpetuating cultural pluralism. Working though the Common Council for American Unity, which he had helped establish in 1939, he began to assemble information about different national and racial groups. From this podium, he demanded the revision of American history textbooks to acknowledge their contributions to the development of the American nation.60 He had long hoped for the founding of such an organization for the purpose of giving “these millions of New Americans knowledge of, and pride in, their own heritage, which would operate to counteract their feelings of inferiority... and simultaneously create a sympathetic understanding toward them on the part of older Americans.”61 His practical and intellectual work encouraged the implementation of ethnic studies on a grand scale, and the systematic documentation of the contributions of the immigrants to American society. He protested the exclusion of the immigrants and their children from every area of American life, including popular culture. For example, he noted that in 1945 the Writers’ War Board issued a report concerning popular writing which declared, “[American fiction] perpetuates the false and mischievous notion that ours is a White, Protestant Anglo-Saxon country.” In 185 short stories published between 1937 and 1943 in eight magazines, “90.8 percent of 889 identifiable characters were Anglo-Saxon. Only sixteen Negroes and ten Jews were counted.”62

Adamic was responsible for the name and the general direction of Common Ground, a quarterly founded in 1940, which was “addressed to the foreign-born and to Americans who ought to know more about them.” Reflecting Adamic’s understanding of the importance of both the dissemination of information and the development of organizations to create the means to accomplish this, the journal was organized into four departments: “Organizations and Their Work,” “School and Teachers,” “From the Immigrant Press,” and “The Bookshelf.” His influence on this journal was so great that it was popularly referred to as “Adamic’s magazine.” Common Ground lived up to its name: its most frequent contributor was Langston Hughes. By unequivocally protesting the incarceration of Japanese Americans (demanding in the title of one article, “Get the Evacuees Out!”), Common Ground’s editors joined the honorable, and astoundingly thin, ranks of Americans who protested this travesty. In 1946, the journal’s paid circulation peaked at close to nine thousand, which included 1,757 libraries and educational institutions.63

The cultural pluralist conceptions developed by Kallen and Bourne and popularized by Adamic were without effect unless they contested Americanization in its major arena of operation, that is, the public school system. As Bourne noted, “to decide what kind of a school we want is almost to decide what kind of a society we want.”64 More than to any other educator, this task fell to Leonard Covello, whose place in the cultural pluralist movement has gone largely unrecognized.65

Leonard Covello

Leonard Covello dedicated his entire professional life as an educational theorist and practitioner to meeting the educational needs of the Italian American and, by extension, all minority-culture school children.66 His magisterial dissertation, “The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child,” which was later published, and his autobiography, The Heart Is the Teacher, as well as approximately forty articles and innumerable speeches, were devoted to this goal.67 Covello joined scholarship to unending activism directed toward the realization of his educational philosophy, which he termed “community-centered education.” Community-centered education synthesized the settlement house, progressive education, and cultural pluralist movements as refracted through the prism of the Italian-American experience. Covello’s educational experiment, more than any other effort in the American public school system, implemented the fundamental concepts of cultural pluralism.

Like Adamic, Covello’s primary focus was on the second- and third-generation. In a lecture presented in 1939 as part of his New York University course, “The Social Background of the Italian Family in America,” he argued that education must foster among the children of the immigrants the realization that “their foreign heritage is not necessarily an inferior heritage, merely because it is not American.” He continued, “absorption [of the immigrant school child] is neither possible nor satisfactory if absorption means an effort to obliterate completely all traces of a former culture.”68 Covello’s educational philosophy insisted on new curricula and activities in the public schools that reflected a “reciprocal relationship between the good things in both foreign and native cultures.” As he saw it, “The enriching elements of all original cultural heritages can be blended and added to the American culture. [Among the students] a sense of pride must be developed both as to a native heritage and in relation to the American heritage.”69 This approach evolved in opposition to the Americanizing thrust of prevailing public school practice. Covello identified the Americanizing ethos of as the major source of the Italian American parents’ hostility toward prolonged education. He further noted that it engendered loyalty conflicts for Italian-American students – especially as they entered high school – between their parents on the one side and the public schools on the other. While Americanization inculcated values at variance with those of the family and community, community-centered education resolved this conflict by bridging the school children’s cultures of origin with a democratic American culture.

To advance this larger goal, Covello stressed the importance of maintaining and teaching the Italian language. In 1939, for example, he argued, “the familiar foreign languages must be used. It is the idea and not the language itself that is important.... It penetrates to depths beyond the [conscious] mind even – depths that can never be reached through the use of the newer, the unfamiliar, language.”70 Entirely typical of all of Covello’s work, he joined advocacy to activity. As Vice-President of the Italian Teachers Association, he led a successful campaign that in 1922 convinced the Board of Education to recognize Italian as a “first language” (on a par with Latin, French, German, and Spanish) that could be studied without students being required to previously enroll for a year in another Romance language. Under his leadership as Chair of the Italian Department at DeWitt Clinton High School, the number of students studying Italian increased from 62 in 1921, to 485 in 1924, to 610 in 1928, which made it the largest Italian Department in the United States on either the high school or college level.71

What makes Covello so especially interesting is the constant development of his educational philosophy in conjunction with his concrete efforts to enhance student success. This process began when he started his career in 1913 as a teacher of French, and later Italian, in DeWitt Clinton High School,72 and continued when (soon after) he became a leader of the system-wide Italian Teachers Association. Covello’s teaching in New York University’s School of Education, from 1928 until the 1940s, and his directorship of the Educational Bureau of the Casa Italiana of Columbia University (established in 1931), provided arenas from which he was able to reach wider audiences, and a context for carrying out research which provided material for his writing.73

In 1934, he attained a rare opportunity for an educational theorist, an appointment as founding principal of a high school – Benjamin Franklin – which was dedicated to implementing his educational philosophy. This philosophy infused the school’s curricula with a democratic ethos celebrating a pluralistic America.74 Benjamin Franklin was located in the center of Italian Harlem, an ideal community for the implementation of community-centered education. (It was also the community where he lived for sixty years.) This community was Covello’s social laboratory whose population in 1930 consisted of: 13% African-Americans, 6% Puerto Ricans, 36% native white of foreign parents, and 37% foreign-born; only 9% of its population was native white of native parents. In this community, 90,000 people were first- and second-generation Italian Americans, who comprised America’s largest and most Italian Little Italy during the decade of the 1930s.

What made possible the founding of a high school with such an advanced mission was the influence of two prominent progressive political leaders, both whom lived in East Harlem: Vito Marcantonio, the Congressman from the district for fourteen years between 1932 and 1950, and Fiorello La Guardia, who had been elected mayor in 1933, had represented the district in Congress from 1922 to 1932, and lived there until 1943.75 When presenting the resolution for the opening of Benjamin Franklin High School, John Tindsley, the acting associate superintendent in charge of high schools, stated: “It is to be a great social center, open days and evenings for boys and adults, to meet as many needs of the community as it can.... It should bring about the closest cooperation with [social agencies in East Harlem, such as] the Heckscher Foundation, the Boys’ Club, Harlem House, Union Settlement.... This school is to be a fluid, experimental school and must have its entire personnel saturated with the spirit of experimentation.”76 Under Covello’s leadership, Benjamin Franklin surpassed these expectations.

After his retirement in 1956, Covello served until 1968 as educational consultant to the Migration Division of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where he adapted his educational ideas and experience to the educational needs of another nationality, whose educational needs had been woefully neglected.77

Covello, who was a socialist, operated under the restraints of a civil servant which forbade any advocacy of political – and most especially, leftist – views.78 Indeed during his career in the New York City public school system, Covello witnessed three political purges: those of the Lusk Committee in the early 1920s, which actually caused the firing of some colleagues at DeWitt Clinton; the Rapp-Coudert Hearings of 1939-41; and on a much larger scale, the mass firings of teachers during the McCarthy period.79 This explains his at times somewhat muted support for cultural pluralism despite its centrality to his educational philosophy. After his retirement, Covello became active in the Socialist Party. In 1972, he returned to Italy, where he remained until he died in 1984, working on community projects in Sicily organized by Danilo Dolci, the radical social theorist and activist.

For some, Covello’s views amounted to little more than “an enlightened and liberal means of achieving the goal of assimilation.”80 Another student of cultural pluralism went as far as to insist, “Leonard Covello was not a cultural pluralist.”81 Some of the confusion arises from a lack of understanding of Covello’s terms. For example, he used “assimilation” in a sense that allows for indefinite cultural retention. In 1939, he wrote “a true assimilation means absorption of the foreign groups without destruction of their fundamental characteristics and without the obliteration of an understandable pride in the fine things that come to them from the past history of their races and nations.... Uniformity is not desirable. The very differences that characterize the immigrant groups are important to America.”82

Kallen, Bourne, Adamic, and Covello differed in their interpretations of cultural pluralism; however, their commonalties were greater than their differences. They insisted that Americanization did great harm to the immigrants and their children. As an immigrant who grew up in America and attended its public schools, Covello offered insights that were particularly acute. For him, language maintenance had to do primarily with family and community unity. He asked, “How can the conflicts within the foreign-born home be adjusted, if no medium exists through which the various members of the family can arrive at an understanding of one another’s viewpoint and purposes?”83 Similarly, he insisted that the Italian American communities (which he described as “an agglomeration of numerous disjointed groupings”) could only be united if both English and Italian were recognized.

All four thinkers acknowledged the vast extent of the immigrant communities in the United States and their centrality to the American experience. While rejecting cultural and ethnic parochialism, they saw the cultures of the ethnic and racial minorities as invaluable for the spiritual and psycho-social needs of these communities and also as assets for the on-going process of constructing a richer, authentically American culture.

The Demise of Cultural Pluralism

The effects of World War II on American society began a slow but sure reversal of the tremendous progress that cultural pluralism made during the ‘30s. Shortly after the declaration of war with Germany, the New York Times reported that in Manhattan’s primarily German-American community of Yorkville, German-language signs were taken down from beer halls and German-language movies were discontinued.84 In 1942, by Executive Order 40, the government had 40,000 first-generation and 70,000 second-generation Japanese Americans evacuated and incarcerated into ten camps, complete with armed military police, guard towers, and barbed wire.85 From the outbreak of hostilities until Columbus Day 1942, 600,000 Italian Americans were placed on the enemy alien list, which entailed a series of restrictions on their lives including the places they could live and their ownership of radios. All of this conveyed a strong message that ethnic minorities could be held responsible for the actions of their countries of origin. This realization undercut support for cultural pluralism, despite the celebration of a multi-ethnic – and on occasion multi-racial – America portrayed in official propaganda as well as in Hollywood movies. During the war years, the circulation of foreign-language newspapers and radio broadcasts drastically declined, never to return to prewar levels.86

But it was the domestic Cold War that inflicted the greatest damage to the cause of the cultural pluralists. During the McCarthy period, the entire Left agenda, its major spokespersons, and its institutions came under hostile scrutiny and brutal sanction. The greatest menace to the immigrant communities’ security arose from the passage, in 1940, of the Alien Registration Act. This bill required all resident aliens to register and be fingerprinted; it also contained the anti-sedition legislation known as the Smith Act, whose provisions expanded the grounds for deportation to include joining an organization that taught or advocated the “overthrow by force and violence of the Government of the United States.”87 The U.S.-Soviet alliance during the war years and the Communist Party’s electoral support for Roosevelt’s Administration and for its policies soothed anxieties on the Communist-oriented Left about the potentially devastating implications of this bill. This state of denial was broken, however, in the post-war period, when the government began using the law to initiate denaturalization and deportation proceedings against foreign-born members of the Party and various organizations it led.88

In 1947, Attorney General Tom Clark claimed, “91.4 percent of the Party’s top leaders [were] either foreign stock or were married to persons of foreign stock.” The following year he explained that he was “trying to deport 3,400 undesirable aliens.”89 At least fifteen editors of pro-Communist newspapers (including those publishing in Italian, Korean, Yiddish, Greek, Chinese, and Finnish) were indicted under the Smith Act for the purpose of allowing the federal government to seek their denaturalization and deportation.90

The International Workers Order was savagely attacked from every side. In 1947, the IWO (along with the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born) was placed on the Attorney General’s Subversive List of organizations. With the stroke of a pen, this put its members at risk for deportation and denaturalization because of membership in an organization teaching and advocating “the violent overthrow of the United States government.” On the grounds that it was not a legitimate fraternal society, but rather a political organization, a two-year-long judicial process brought about the liquidation of the IWO. During the trial, its President, the renowned artist, Rockwell Kent,91 explained to the judge that the IWO rejected the melting pot as a national goal, and preferred to foster ethnic diversity, which, he explained, “would make the culture of America more like a tapestry, woven of brilliant colored threads, everyone of which can be distinguished, and [which would] keep its own characteristics.... [It would make] a richer and more beautiful America if these cultures were kept alive.”92 Apparently, the judge was not impressed and in 1953, the IWO’s low-cost, nondiscriminatory (in matters of race, nationality, occupation) insurance system was put out of business by the New York Department of Insurance and the millions of dollars of its policyholders’ insurance premiums were transferred to a for-profit insurance company. The court rescinded the charter allowing the IWO to function in New York as a mutual benefit society, and other states followed suit. Ignominiously and without protest or even notice from the liberal establishment and press, a keystone of the infrastructure that underpinned cultural pluralism was demolished.93

The fate of Louis Adamic, which paralleled that of Bourne during the earlier Red Scare, encapsulates the general assault on cultural pluralism during this period. Even as his national reputation soared, Adamic maintained his ties to the Slovenian-American community and the larger Yugoslavian communities, both of which boasted large left-wing contingents.94 Within these and other immigrant communities as well as the general society, Adamic had boldly associated himself with organizations closely connected to the Communist Party, including the Slovenian-American National Council (of which he served as honorary president), the United Committee of South Slav-Americans, the American Committee for a Free Yugoslavia, and most importantly, the American Slav Congress, which was launched in 1942 to unite the ten million Americans of the various Slavic nationalities around the demand for a second front and Russian war relief. In 1948, he served as a member of the platform committee at the Progressive Party Convention and was one of the five authors of “Peace, Freedom and Abundance: The Platform of the Progressive Party.”95 Before a Senate committee, Louis Budenz, former Managing Editor of the Daily Worker and then one of the government’s professional witnesses, testified, “Mr. Adamic was not a Communist.” However, on August 2, 1948, before a Senate Committee, he accused Adamic of permitting Earl Browder, when he was Communist Party Chairman, of reading the proof sheets of My Native Land, Adamic’s highly considered account of the Yugoslav resistance. Adamic denied these charges and insisted that his name and books had been brought into “the present hysteria wave” because of his support for the Progressive Party.”96 These attacks caused the Carnegie Corporation to withdraw its support of Common Ground, which ceased publishing in 1950. Adamic’s associations with the Left were sufficient to remove him from public life. Subsequently, what has been erased from the history books is the memory of this man, who has been described as being “the foremost ethnic spokesman during the inter-war years, [who more than any other person had] grappled with the ethnic question in American life with such intensity of feeling and fever of commitment; few men have made such an impact on the rank and file of the ethnic groups, and few men have articulated such a vision of national regeneration.”97 On September 4, 1951, Adamic set ablaze his own home – which included his library and research – and then shot himself. The date of his death could well serve to mark the demise of the cultural pluralist movement.98

Americanization had always been a movement of the Right; and cultural pluralism from its inception had been a project of the Left, broadly defined. Americanization, reinforced by the melting pot theory, corresponded to the interests of the owning class, because it disempowered the immigrant communities. Its message rang out clear: the path to acceptance and success requires the adoption not only of the customs but also the dominant ideas of America. These ideas were not the principles of civil liberty embedded in the Bill of Rights, but a celebratory, exclusive nationalism that led to acquiescence and conformity. Consequently, the Right used the power of the state and its hegemony over civil society to bring about the acculturation of the immigrants as quickly as possible and, under certain conditions, the repression of cultural pluralism.

At the same time, cultural pluralism provided an ideology for leaders within the immigrant communities, and left intellectuals, which justified resistance to Americanization. Cultural pluralism was joined to the struggle for racial equality and a more equitable society, which was perhaps best summed up by Vice-President Henry Wallace in 1943 when he proclaimed the Twentieth Century the Century of the Common Man – and insisted that the United States adopt economic rights to accompany existing legal rights.

The destruction of the Left – its institutions, publications, and presence in the wider society – eliminated the framework within which the immigrant communities and their allies in the general society could press for cultural pluralism. Separately, the various nationality groups lacked the organizational means to defend their legal and cultural rights. Moreover, they no longer had an ideology that could unite them around a politics that connected them to the wider currents of progressive politics in their adopted land. Cultural pluralism could only thrive as a component of a movement demanding – without perhaps ever employing the word – social democracy, a definition of democracy which incorporated, along with the legal and political rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, cultural, social, and economic (that is, group) rights.

Cultural pluralism is not the exact equivalent of today’s multiculturalism. Both assert the right of cultural minorities to persist in the expressions of their cultures and to expect respect and support from public policy and institutions, especially the public schools. In practice, multiculturalism advances through the lobbying of each individual ethnic and racial group and is inserted into an otherwise unchanged ideological and institutional framework. Multiculturalism does not articulate reasons why one minority should support the others’ claims and society’s overall interest in its vision. By contrast, cultural pluralism situated the demands of the various groups within a context of an on-going struggle for the realization of a much broader definition of democracy that included cultural rights linking the various nationality groups together with one another and with the general progressive movement.

Above all, the cultural pluralists believed all the cultural minority groups objectively shared in common what Bourne called a need for a “co-operative Americanism,” where all of the country’s nationalities were free to simultaneously maintain “distinct cultural allegiances” and “common political allegiance and common social ends.”99 In a similar vein, Covello insisted that the immigrant children must “feel that a knowledge of and a pride in their foreign cultural heritage is natural and just – something desirable for themselves, for the America of today, and the America of tomorrow.”100 In every case, they envisioned the minority communities coalescing with one another and with progressive native-American forces. Today that would include the gay and lesbian community, which represents yet another minority striving to have its culture and rights flourish alongside those of other disempowered minorities.


Cultural pluralism emerged in response to a Nativist reaction to the massive influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Restrictive immigration laws, the Great Depression, and World War II reduced immigration from those regions to a trickle. Although there was some increase in immigration from Europe after World War II, and again in 1965 due to the easing of the restrictive immigration laws, by the ‘70s the United States seemed less and less attractive to most Europeans. This meant the decline – even disappearance – of their sites of traditional settlement, newspapers, organizations, etc. There seemed to be no core around which subsequent generations could adhere to an ethnic identity. Consequently, to somewhat varying degrees, the European ethnic groups have entered into what has been called “the twilight of ethnicity.”101

Among many other things, this has meant that there is a loss of constituencies sympathetic to the most recent wave of immigrants. The assimilation of the European ethnic groups has led them, often in contradiction to their own economic and social interests, to drift politically to the right, where they have been met with open arms. Importantly, within almost every European group there are individuals who report feelings of loss due to their disconnectedness to their forebears and their culture. Many have become determined to reconnect with their roots by taking actions such as learning the languages and cultures of their families’ origins, visiting the sites of their lives in Europe, and learning the history of their forebears once they arrived in the United States. Frequently, these steps lead them to a more sympathetic attitude to today’s immigrants and opposition to the repressive individualism currently masquerading as full-fledged Americanism.

A new wave of mass immigration into the United States starting around 1970 has brought to the fore the need to re-examine the heritage of the cultural pluralists. In 2005 only 58% of the country’s public school children were white, a number that has subsequently dropped even lower. In 2007, more than 13% of the U.S. population was comprised of immigrants, a figure projected to rise to 19% by 2050. The difference between the New Immigrants who arrived from 1880 to 1920 and the new immigrants of today is that only 14% of the recent immigrants have arrived from Europe, while fully 42% derive from Latin America and another 26% from Asia.102 The vapid notion that “we are all multiculturalists now”103 is contradicted by the widespread denial of the rights of these immigrants and their children and grandchildren to bilingual education, due process, and recognition of the value of their languages and cultures. The use of immigrants as scapegoats has once again been exhibited by the profiling of Arab and Muslim immigrants and by extreme hostility toward undocumented immigrants. This overwhelmingly working-class population works without union protection, medical insurance, and security of their status for themselves or for other family members, friends, and neighbors. Cultural pluralism could provide a framework within which strategies of survival and progress could develop, where alliances and coalitions could form, where victims could become victor in the struggle for a more democratic United States.

Cultural pluralism is part of a nearly lost progressive heritage whose recovery could greatly help cultural minorities to more effectively assert their rights to equality against increasingly aggressive forces that, in the name of national security, are intent on erasing difference.104 Today, much as in earlier years, cultural pluralism belongs on the progressive agenda. This is a matter of equity, but it is also an essential part of the unending fight to realize and broaden democracy in the United States. Specifically it means struggling to allow the new immigrants of this era support – legal, ideological, political – to maintain and develop their languages and cultures while learning English and in any other way integrating themselves into the wider society. Among other things, this means moving from a reactive stance toward the depredations of the Right and an active advocacy of cultural pluralism supported by a progressive organizational infrastructure.


1. Leonard Dinnerstein and David Reimers, Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration (New York: Harper & Row, 1998), 43.

2. Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut, Immigrant America: A Portrait (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 184.

3. John McClymer, “The Americanization Movement and the Education of the Foreign-Born Adult, 1914-1925,” in American Education and the European Immigrant: 1880-1940, ed. Bernard Weiss (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1982), 97f.

4. Thomas Archdeacon, Becoming American: An Ethnic History (New York: Free Press, 1983), 175, 207; Gerald Meyer, “English Only: Its Historical Antecedents,” Punto7 Review (Fall 1992), 88.

5. Stephan Brumberg, Going to America, Going to School: The Jewish Immigrant Public School Encounter in Turn-of-Century New York City (New York: Praeger, 1986), 71, 177, 208.

6. Selma Berrol, “Public Schools and Immigrants: The New York Experience,” in American Education and the European Immigrant, 37.

7. William Greenbaum, “America in Search of a New Ideal,” Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 44, no. 3 (1974), 431.

8. Leonard Covello, with Guido D’Agostino, The Heart Is the Teacher (New York: McGraw Hill, 1958), 29f, 43f.

9. Susan Dicker, Languages in America: A Pluralist View (Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, 1996), 35.

10. Alan Kraut, The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880-1921 (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1982), 145f.

11. McClymer, “The Americanization Movement” (note 3), 110f.

12. Altschuler, Race, Ethnicity, and Class in American Social Thought, 1865-1919, 62, 65. For a more critical interpretation of Jane Addams’s approach to cultural pluralism see Rivka Shpak Lissak, Pluralism and Progressives: Hull House and the New Immigrants,1890-1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

13. Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 29.

14. Horace Kallen, “Democracy versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality: Part I and Part II,” The Nation (Feb.18, 1915, 190-94; and Feb. 25, 217-20). The term “cultural pluralism” first appeared in a slightly revised version of this essay published in 1924. Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 220, 51. Kallen’s New York Times obituary made no specific mention of his pioneering work in cultural pluralism. “Dr. Horace Kallen, Philosopher, Dies” (Feb. 17, 1974), 66.

15. Leonard Ayres, Laggards in Our Schools: A Study in Retardation and Elimination in City School Systems (New York: Charities Publications, 1910), 104.

16. The 1910 Census revealed that foreign-born residents accounted for 14.6% of the total U.S. population. The 20-year period from 1890 to 1910 accounted for 84% of the Italians and 90% of the Eastern European Jews who had to that time arrived in the United States. S.C. Watkins and A. Robles, After Ellis Island: Newcomers and Natives in the 1910 Census (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994), 372f.

16. Portes and Rumbaut, Immigrant America, 184.

17. Gerald Meyer, “L’Unità del Popolo: The Voice of Italian American Communism, 1939-1951,” Italian American Review (Spring/Summer 2001): 121-56.

18. Kallen, “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot, Part II,” 219. Kallen suggested the operation of a nonlinear course to the process of Americanization, where after the immigrants’ children achieved a certain level of economic success, “[the acculturation process] slows down and then comes to a stop.” He anticipated that national self-consciousness among the various immigrant nationalities would increase as a result of discrimination and hostility from the dominant society. Indeed, he detected a process of disassimilation at the point when the immigrant group formed a “solitary spiritual unit.” “Democracy versus the Melting Pot, Part II,” 217-19.

19. Kallen, “Democracy versus the Melting Pot, Part II,” 220. On the general question of the cultural pluralists’ failure to associated their goals with the strivings of African Americans for full equality, see Nathan Glazer, We Are All Multiculturalists Now (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 110-14.

20. John Higham, Send These to Me (New York: Atheneum, 1975), 208.

21. Leslie Vaughan, Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 130.

22. Arieh Lebowitz, “Socialist Zionism,” 779-81 in The Encyclopedia of the American Left 2nd Edition, eds. Mari Jo Bhule, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). The Reconstructionist movement, which was founded in 1935 by Mordecai Kaplan, envisioned a Jewish identity essentially based on culture. Allen Guttmann, The Jewish Writers in America: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 94f. The Jewish Bund, a secular left party based on the Yiddish language and culture, had an enormous following in Eastern Europe, but only a small presence in the United States. Much of Jewish secularism found a home in the Socialist and Communist movements.

23. Peter Rutkoff, and William Scott, New School: A History of the New School for Social Research (New York: Free Press, 1986), 79f.

24. Philip Cannistraro, Blackshirts in Little Italy: Italian Americans and Fascism, 1921-1929 (West Lafayette, IN: Bordighera Press, 1999).

25. Joshua Fishman, Language Loyalty in the United States: The Maintenance and Perpetuation of Non-English Mother Tongues by American Ethnic and Religious Groups (The Hague: Mouton, 1966).

26. Archdeacon, Becoming American, 134.

27. Some of the entries in The Immigrant Left in the United States, eds. Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996) contribute much to an understanding of this much neglected topic.

28. See also: Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti’s Revenge, 163-70, in eds. Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism: Labor, Politics, Culture (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 2003); David DeLeon, The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1978), 85-101.

29. Gerald Meyer, “Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti: Their Legacy,” Voices of Italian Americana Vol. 19, No. 1 (2008): 49-72.

30. Salvatore Salerno, Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the Industrial Workers of the World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 10.

31. James Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 24, 182. For examples of radicalized immigrant communities see Gerald Meyer, “Marcantonio and El Barrio,” Centro: Journal of the Center of Puerto Rican Studies (Spring 1992): 66-87 (reprint of chapter from Gerald Meyer, Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989); and Gary Mormino and George Pozzetta, “The Radical World of Ybor City [Tampa], Florida,” 253-64, in The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism (note 28).

32. Randolph Bourne, “Trans-National America,” Atlantic Monthly (July 1916), reprinted in Randolph Bourne: The Radical Will, Selected Writings 1911-1918, ed. Olaf Hansen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

33. Randolph Bourne, “Toward a Trans-National America,” in The Menorah Treasury: Harvest of Half a Century, ed. Leo Schwartz (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1964), 848.

34. Bourne, “Trans-National America,” 251-52, 254.

35. Kallen later helped found the Menorah Society whose publication, the Menorah Journal, became a major vehicle for the propagation of an anti-assimilationist-cosmopolitan cultural pluralism. Wald, New York Intellectuals, 29-31.

36. Bourne, “A War Diary,” quoted in Leslie Vaughan, Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 124, 134.

37. Hansen, The Radical Will, “Introduction,” 52.

38. Mc Clymer, “The Americanization Movement,” 98; see also, Dicker, Languages in America, 71.

39. Robert Coughlan, “Konklave in Kokomo,” in The Private Side of American History: Readings in Everyday Life, Vol. II, ed. Thomas Frazier (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 196, 199.

40. Examples of Popular Front culture that reflect America’s ethnic diversity and connect the European immigrant cultures with African Americans include: “Ballad for Americans,” a cantata with music by Earl Robinson and lyrics by John LaTouche, which was originally performed in 1939 with Paul Robeson as soloist; Street Scene: An American Opera, with music by Kurt Weill and libretto by Langston Hughes, which was first performed in 1947; “Let America Be America Again,” a poem commissioned by the International Order in 1939, by Langston Hughes. Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1997), 115-18, 319.

41. Here Buhle was referring to members of the “Jewish creative world of mass entertainment,” but his astute evaluation holds true for all the creative workers associated with Popular Front culture in the United States. Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas, eds., The Immigrant Left in the United States (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 103.

42. Although Irish Americans provided some major Communist leaders (William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Mike Quill), they were the only ethnic group among whom the Party failed to build a base. Communist Activities among Aliens and National Groups: Hearings, Part 2 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), 524.

43. Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself (New York: Twayn Publishers, 1992), 18f, 73f; Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History (New York: Praeger, 1962); Nathan Glazer, The Social Basis of American Communism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1961), 221.

44. Thomas Walker, Pluralistic Fraternity: The History of the International Workers Order (New York: Garland Publishing 1991), 15. Outside this umbrella, the Party led a number of fraternal organizations of other nationalities. Matjaz Klemencic, “American Slovenes and the Leftist Movements in the United States of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of American Ethnic History (Spring 1996): 22-43.

45. Barrington Moore, “The Communist Party of the USA: An Analysis of a Social Movement,” American Political Science Review (Feb. 1945), 38.

46. Communist Activities among Aliens and National Groups: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Senate Judiciary, 1949: Part I (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950), 520f, 529f. To date, there is only one published work on the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born – John Sherman’s A Communist Front at Mid-Century: The American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, 1933-1959 (Westport CT: Praeger, 2001), which only touches on aspects of this organization’s large history. The sixty feet of papers, documenting the history of the American Committee are deposited in the Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan, and await a scholar who will write a better book about this most important part of the history of the foreign born.

47. William Patterson, The Man Who Cried Genocide: An Autobiography (New York: International Publishers, 1991), 75-90.

48. P. Hutchinson, Immigrants and Their Children, 1850-1950 (New York: John Wiley, 1956), 3, 8.

49. Louis Adamic, From Many Lands (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940), 294.

50. Archdeacon, Becoming American, 191f. The increase in the Jewish vote reflected not only a decrease in voting Republican, but also, in New York City and elsewhere, a massive desertion from the Socialist Party.

51. Richard Jensen, “The Cities Re-elect Roosevelt: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in 1940,” Ethnicity (June 1981), 192f.

52. Bernard Berelson, et al., Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), 62f. To some extent, Truman’s remarkably left domestic program, which appealed to the members of the traditional New Deal coalition, developed in response to the candidacy of Henry Wallace running as the candidate of the Progressive Party, whose vote was also mostly comprised of ethnic minorities and African Americans. Norman Markowitz, The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century: Henry Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948 (New York: Free Press, 1973).

53. Rudolph Vecoli, “Louis Adamic and the Contemporary Search for Roots,” Ethnic Studies (1978), 31.

54. Dynamite, which was first published in 1931, was re-issued in 1984 in London by Rebel Press.

55. Adamic, From Many Lands, 301; Adamic, Two Way Passage (New York: 1941), 77; “This Crisis Is an Opportunity,” 65, quoted in Robert Harney, “E Pluribus Unum: Louis Adamic and the Meaning of Ethnic History,” in If One Were to Write a History: Selected Writings by Robert Harney, eds. Pierre Anctil and Bruno Ramirez (Toronto, Canada: Multicultural History Society, 1991), 87.

56. Adamic, From Many Lands, 293.

57. Louis Adamic, “Thirty Million New Americans,” Harper’s Monthly (Nov. 1934), 685-91.

58. Vecoli, “Louis Adamic,” 32. See also: Louis Adamic, Nation of Nations (New York: Harper Brothers, 1940), 9; William Charles Beyer, “Louis Adamic (1898-1951): His Life, Work, and Legacy,” Spectrum (Fall 1982): 1-9.

59. Harney, “E Pluribus Unum,” 182.

60. Vecoli, “Louis Adamic,” 33.

61. Adamic, “Thirty Million New Americans,” 692.

62. Adamic, Nation of Nations, 7.

63. William Charles Beyer, “Creating Common Ground on the Home Front: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in a 1940s Quarterly Magazine,” in The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society, 41-53 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers, 1995).

64. Bourne, “The Democratic School,” quoted in Vaughn (note 36), 75.

65. To date, the published scholarship on Covello is surprisingly limited. It includes these articles by Gerald Meyer: “Leonard Covello: A Pioneer in Bilingual Education,” Bilingual Review (Jan.-Aug. 1985): 55-61; “Leonard Covello and Vito Marcantonio: A Lifelong Collaboration for Progress,” Italica (Spring 1985): 54-66; “Leonard Covello (1887-1982): An Italian American Contribution to the Education of Minority-Culture Students,” Italian American Review (Spring 1996): 36-43; and “When Frank Sinatra Came to Italian Harlem: The 1945 ‘Race Riot’ at Benjamin Franklin High School,” in Are Italians White?: How Race Is Made in America (New York: Routledge, 2003), 161-76, eds. Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno. Fortunately, a major book on Covello has recently appeared: Michael Johanek and John Puckett, Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School: Education as if Citizenship Matters (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007).

66. The Italians, 80% of whom came from Southern Italy, were likely the most proletarianized of the New Immigrants. The occupations of male Italian emigrants in 1910, for example, listed only 0.37% as “liberal professions,” and only 10% as “artisans and manufacturing.” Of those who had identifiable occupations, nearly 90% were peasants or laborers. What distinguished the Italians from the German and Jewish immigrants was that the latter included large numbers of skilled workers. Bollettino dell’Emigrazione, no. 18 (1910), Table 7, 20f.

67. Leonard Covello, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child: A Study of the Southern Italian Family Mores and Their Effect on the School Situation in Italy and America (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967).

68. Leonard Covello, “Community Centered School,” Covello Collection: Box 19, Folder 13/19 (Citizenship). Henceforth citations from the Covello Collection will appears as: CC: B, F (Subject). The Covello Collection, which is deposited in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, consists of fifty-four linear feet of shelf space organized into 108 boxes, containing an extraordinary range of material – including correspondence with family members and the largest collection of material about Italian Harlem – that document Covello’s lifelong work.

69. Covello, “Community Centered School,” CC: B19, F13/19 (Citizenship).

70 . Covello, “Community Centered School.” CC: B19, F19/22 (Chap, XVI “Adult Ed”).

71. Robert Peebles, Leonard Covello: A Study of an Immigrant’s Contribution to New York City (New York: Arno Press), 144; Mario Cosenza, “Foreword,” First Book in Italian, by Leonard Covello and Annita Giacobbe (New York: Macmillan, 1937), vii.

72. Covello, The Heart is the Teacher, 129-137.

73. At New York University, Covello taught “The Social Background of The Italian Family in America” and “School-Community Education” primarily to teachers matriculated in the Masters of Education degree program. The course lectures provided much of the material for “The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child.” See: Francesco Cordasco, “Urban Education: Leonard Covello and the Community School,” School & Society (Summer 1970). The major accomplishment of the Education Bureau was its sponsorship of a series of pamphlets, which pioneered the study of the Italian American experience. Its titles include: “The Italian Population of New York City,” by William Shedd; “Occupational Trends of Italians in New York City,” by John D’Alesandre; and “Language Usage in Italian Families,” by Leonard Covello, which was also published in two parts in Atlantica (Oct. and Nov. 1934). See also, Peebles, Leonard Covello, 332.

74. Covello, “Neighborhood Growth,” 127.

75. Covello, “A High School and Its Immigrant Community: A Challenge and an Opportunity,” The Journal of Educational Sociology (Feb. 1936), 332; Gerald Meyer, “Italian Harlem: America’s Most Italian Little Italy,” in The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement, 57-68, ed. Philip Cannistraro (Milan: Mondadori, 1999).

76. Johanek and Puckett, Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School, 109-226.

77. Covello’s link to the Migration Division of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was its Director Joseph Monserrat, an alumnus of Benjamin Franklin. In 1969, Monserrat became the President of New York City’s Board of Education. Monserrat, who had been tremendously active as a student at Benjamin Franklin, evolved from protégé to collaborator. After his appointment as President of the Board of Education, Monserrat wrote Covello: “Please remember that my deep interest in public education started many years ago when I was a student at Benjamin Franklin and was lucky enough to have ‘Pop’ Covello as the Principal.” Monserrat to Covello (July 1, 1969), CC: Series III. B 5 F (JM). “Pop” was the nickname initially given to Covello by Marcantonio, another protégé, when he was a student of his in DeWitt Clinton. Covello, The Heart, 152. Covello served as a consultant for The Puerto Rican Study: 1958-1957: A Report on the Education and Adjustment of Puerto Rican Pupils in the Public Schools of the City of New York, Director J. Cayce Morrison, intro. Francesco Cordasco (New York: Oriole Editions, 1972), 253.

78. In The Heart Is the Teacher, Covello talks about his early attraction to socialism. (57f, 89) Covello’s political inclinations are partially revealed in Meyer, “When Frank Sinatra Came to Italian Harlem.” Correspondence between Covello and Norman Thomas and other documentation about his relationship to the Socialist Party are in possession of the author. In 1969, Covello wrote Layle Lane (an African American member of Benjamin Franklin’s faculty, during his tenure as principal): “As a people we have surrendered practically completely all power to the president and military-industrial complex to the point where we seem to be headed toward a Fascist State.” CC B 4 F 4/25 (Lane, Layle).

79. On the Lusk Committee see: Julian Jaffe, Crusade against Radicalism: New York during the Red Scare (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1972); on the Rapp-Coudert Hearings see Stephen Leberstein, “Purging the Profs: The Rapp-Coudert Committee in New York, 1940-1942,” in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism, eds. Michael Brown, et al. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993); on the McCarthy period see Celia Zitron, The New York City Teachers Union: 1916-1964: A Story of Educational and Social Commitment (New York: Humanities Press, 1968).

80. Gleason, Speaking of Diversity, 53, 56.

81. Nicholas Montalto, “The Forgotten Dream: A History of the Intercultural Education Movement, 1924-1941" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1977), 19.

82. Covello, “Community Centered School,” CC: B19, F13/19 (Citizenship). Elsewhere he defined assimilation as “the adjustment of the immigrants and their children to the American culture.” Social Background, 410.

83. Leonard Covello, “Language as a Factor in Integration and Assimilation: The Role of the Language Teacher in a School-Community Program,” Modern Language Journal (Feb. 1919), 330.

84. Frederick Binder and David Reimers, All the Nations under Heaven: An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 193.

85. Joseph Roucek and Bernard Eisenberg, America’s Ethnic Politics (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), 20f.

86. Fishman, Language Loyalty.

87. Ellen Schrecker, “Immigration and Internal Security: Political Deportation during the McCarthy Era,” Science & Society (Winter 1996-1997): 395.

88. Meyer, “English Only: Its Historical Antecedents,” 88.

89. Schrecker, “Immigration and Internal Security,” 399, 403. An Immigration and Naturalization Services regulation that forbade sending aliens back to their home countries if those countries refused to accept them saved most of those targeted for deportation, the vast majority of whom had been born in Eastern European countries whose Communist governments refused to cooperate with the United States persecution of the Left.

90. David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 239.

91. Kent, who had designed the IWO logo and contributed drawings for the covers of IWO-issued pamphlets, assumed the IWO’s presidency in 1949. He possessed a number of characteristics that the leadership of this beleaguered organization believed helpful at this time: he had an Anglo-Saxon pedigree and name to match; he was not an open Communist; and he had achieved the reputation as a major American artist. None of this deterred the government’s determination to destroy this unique phenomenon. Unable to find a major American museum that would accept his extensive personal inventory of his art, Kent donated hundreds of his works to “the people of the Soviet Union.” In 1967, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Arthur Sabin, Red Scare in Court: New York versus the International Workers Order (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 22, 47, 285; “Rockwell Kent,”

92. Sabin, Red Scare in Court, 252. The author of this fine book notes, “with the exception of certain labor unions, the IWO was the largest, most successful left-wing organization in modern American history. It was the strongest, most enduring, and most sizable Communist-affiliated group” (351).

93. David Caute, The Great Fear, 173f; Sabin, Red Scare in Court, 315.

94. Klemencic, “American Slovenes and the Leftist Movements,” 22-43; Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Communist Activities in Alien and National Groups, Part 2, 618, 625, 654. In Yugoslavia, the Left had gained a much larger following in Serbia than in Croatia; however, in the United States, it was much weaker in the Serbian- than in the Croatian-American community. Communist Activities among Aliens and National Groups: Hearings, Part 2, Part 2, 618, 625, 654.

95. “Rally Here Cheers Message by Stalin: U.S. Policy as It Affects Russia Decried; [Sec. of State] Byrnes Booed at Slav Congress Session,” New York Times (Sept. 23, 1946), 1; William Goldsmith, “The Theory and Practice of the Communist Front” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1971), 556-63.

96. Curtis MacDougall, Gideon’s Army, Vol. II (New York: Marzani & Munsell, 1965), 549; Klemencic, “American Slovenes,” 38.

97. Montalto, “The Forgotten Dream,” 291, 67f. See also: Nicholas Montalto, “The Intercultural Education Movement, 1924-1941: The Growth of Tolerance as a Form of Intolerance,” in American Education and the European Immigrant, 142-60.

98. Steve Nelson, James Barrett, and Rob Ruck, Steve Nelson: American Radical. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981), 290.

99. Bourne, “The Jew and Trans-National America,” quoted in Vaughn, 136f.

100. Covello, “A High School and Its Immigrant Community,” 340f.

101. Richard Alba, Italian Americans: Into the Twilight of Ethnicity (New York: Prentice Hall, 1985).

102. “Forming a More Diverse Union,” New York Times (June 29, 2003); “A Changing Face,” New York Times (Feb. 12, 2006), A12; “U.S. Data Show Rapid Minority Growth in School Rolls,” New York Times (June 1, 2007), A21; “Seven-Year Immigration Rate Is Highest in U.S. History,” New York Times (Nov. 29, 2007), A20

103. Glazer, We Are All Multiculturalists Now.

104. In1945, Adamic stated, “The pattern of America is the blend of cultures from many lands woven of threads from all corners of the earth. Diversity is the American pattern – the stuff and color of the American fabric.” Louis Adamic, “Unity in Adversity,” an address delivered before the Manhattan Women’s Division of the American Jewish Congress on Oct. 30, 1945; published in A Monthly Summary of Events and Trends in Race Relations (Sept. 1945), 162f.