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Speakeasies

On January 29, 1920, the 18th Amendment came into effect for all Americans across the country. With this act, the Roaring Twenties unofficially began. This amendment began the Prohibition Era as it outlawed the distribution of and drinking of alcohol.  The Prohibitionists believed that with this amendment, the amount of drinking in the country would significantly decrease.  However, this amendment backfired profusely during the next decade. 

Prohibitionists and those against the 18th amendment were divided in every city across the country.  Alcohol was a major part of the average American’s everyday life, especially those classified as “wets”.  “Wet” was the nickname for people who were against Prohibition and wished to wet their mouths with alcohol.  This became extremely apparent once alcohol was made illegal by the 18th amendment as it pushed them to acquire alcohol by any means, illegal or not.  However, there was a large amount of people across the country supporting Prohibition.  These people included religious officials, some women groups, and those of the elder generation.  These groups believed that the younger generation was becoming corrupt with the large amounts of alcohol and the best way to fight it was to keep their mouths and souls dry of any evil alcohol.  Therefore, the nickname of "dry" was given to Prohibitionists.

 During the 1920s, law enforcement officials worked to shut down all the saloons and bars across the country.  However, enforcing Prohibition did not work for two main reasons.  The first being that not enough law enforcement was given to enforce the new amendment properly.  As a result of this, whenever a bar or saloon was shut down by these officials, an illegal "speakeasy" immediately took its place.  Secondly, most law enforcement officers or local policemen would let these illegal operations run and keep quiet about them, if they were paid some bribe money.  The most famous known man to hold such illegal operations during this time was Al Capone of Chicago, Michigan.  He ran a far-reaching, underground alcohol business.  He was constantly fighting for his territory in Chicago, as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre demonstrates.  This massacre occurred in 1929 when Capone's gunmen killed rival Chicago mobsters (Gross 1)).  Capone sold alcohol to individual people and owners of speakeasies. 

Speakeasies were the most common form of these illegal operations during Prohibition.  They were illegal clubs or bars, in which illegal alcohol was sold.  They acquired their name by the way in which someone would be able to enter.  To enter the speakeasy, you would need to "whisper, or ‘speakeasy,’ as patrons attempted to cross their illegal thresholds" ("Speakeasies" 1).  Once inside, members could buy alcohol, socialize with other "wets" and listen to jazz music.

Speakeasies were an important part of the Jazz Age.  Jazz musicians found their most accepting audiences in these speakeasies.  They were extensions of such places as the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York.  Speakeasies gave "wets" a place to drink their necessary amounts of alcohol and let loose during the 1920s. 

 

Gross, Tamara K. "1920s". (24 December 1999). On-line. Internet. 24 January 2004. Available WWW: http://cdcga.org/HTMLs/decades/1920s.htm

"Speakeasies". Jazz: a History of America's Music. On-line. Internet. 23 January 2004. Available WWW:                                                www.pbs.org/jazz/exchange/exchange_speakeasies.htm

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