About Respect

Respect Study Guide

Table of Contents:

Background | Social Conditions During the Decades | Discussion Questions | Worksheets & Activities
References | Appendices

Social Conditions During the Decades

1900-1920 | 1929-1939 | 1940-1949 | 1950-mid-60s | 1961-1970 | 1970-early 80s | Mid-80s to present & Summary


Betty BoopOn October 20, 1929 the Stock Market crashed, leaving many destitute and without hope of gainful employment. Ten years of worldwide Depression began as well as a thirst for escapist entertainment, fueled in part by the 1929 invention of talking pictures (and cartoons). Enter Betty Boop, who was patterned after the popular flapper singer Helen Kane, and who made more movies than even Mickey Mouse. According to Michael Fagan, Betty was so enduringly popular because she was one part Shirley Temple and three parts Mae West. Innocence coupled with sexual titillation has given Boop incredible staying power and spawned more modern counterparts (such as Marilyn Monroe and Britney Spears).

Shirley TempleAnother development during the twenties and thirties was the rise of the Blues and Jazz. It began in the Mississippi Delta (Memphis--largely Beale Street--and St. Louis), as a result of former slaves moving north after the Civil War. The Blues were influenced by spirituals, field calls, rhythmic dance tunes called jump-ups, and church melodies. The first songs had the performer engaging in his own call-and-response song. That is, he would sing a line and the guitar responded. Though men were the first blues guitarists, women became the first blues singers to sell a lot of records, staring with Mamie Smith’s 1920 hit Crazy Blues. Other top Blues singers were Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

Rather than the sweet innocence of other Top-40 songs, the Blues spoke of the grittier parts of life and love, of hurt, pain and betrayal. Black women were the first to name the pain in song. Billie Holiday became one of its most enduring faces during the 30s with her songs God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, and Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.

Ida WellsActivist Ida B. Wells died in 1931. She devoted her life to the struggle for women’s rights and those for Black people. Born to slaves in Mississippi, her parents died early and she raised her six brothers and sisters alone. Because she understood the value of education, she went to school and became a teacher, moving to Memphis. Three of her close friends, young black men, were lynched because their tiny grocery story took away business from the white store.

As a result, she became an outspoken critic of lynching and had to move to Chicago because of death threats. Newspapers called her a “rabble-rouser” because she kept writing about women’s rights (including suffrage) and the evils of lynching.

Next decade - 1940-1949
Previous Decade - 1900-1920

Background | Social Conditions During the Decades | Discussion Questions | Worksheets & Activities
References | Appendices