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Americans All

Americans All

The Cultural Gifts Movement

Diana Selig

ISBN 9780674062245

Publication date: 09/30/2011

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From the 1920s—a decade marked by racism and nativism—through World War II, hundreds of thousands of Americans took part in a vibrant campaign to overcome racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices. They celebrated the “cultural gifts” that immigrant and minority groups brought to society, learning that ethnic identity could be compatible with American ideals.

Diana Selig tells the neglected story of the cultural gifts movement, which flourished between the world wars. Progressive activists encouraged pluralism in homes, schools, and churches across the country. Countering racist trends and the melting-pot theory of Americanization, they championed the idea of diversity. They incorporated new thinking about child development, race, and culture into grassroots programs—yet they were unable to address the entrenched forms of discrimination and disfranchisement faced by African Americans in particular. This failure to grasp the deep social and economic roots of prejudice ultimately limited the movement’s power.

In depicting a vision for an inclusive American identity from a diverse citizenry, Americans All is a timely reminder of the debates over difference and unity that remain at the heart of American society.


  • Selig offers an insightful and well-written study on the wide range of efforts to promote interethnic and multicultural understandings during the interwar period. She historicizes the bomb-scarred terrain of the late twentieth-century culture wars, challenging the idea that multiculturalism grew out of the merger in the 1960s and 1970s of group and individual rights activism and ethnic revivalism. The work also fits in nicely with the most important trends in civil rights literature, as Selig argues that multicultural education has a much longer and more complex history than we have believed. Americans All is a unique and exciting contribution.

    —Jonathan Holloway, Yale University


  • Diana Selig is Associate Professor of History, Claremont McKenna College.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press