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It was a Crime to be German

A Road Scholar Program by Barbara Kay

Book burnings…physical attacks upon immigrants…vandalism of immigrant-owned property…proliferation of irrational fear and hatred. We might tend to associate such occurrences with dictatorships, but 100 years ago incidents such as these took place right here in Illinois. The United States was involved in the “Great War,” and some Illinoisans considered anything German to be evil – including their fellow Illinois residents of German descent.

Although German immigrants and first-generation German Americans had been present throughout Illinois for decades and formed a large proportion of the state’s population, mob hysteria and violence against them escalated in Illinois during the World War I years. A man was lynched in Collinsville, and what was his crime? He was a German immigrant.

Historical actor Barbara Kay will portray her great-grandmother, Margaret May, a resident of southern Illinois who saw and felt anti-German hysteria a century ago. She will illustrate her presentation with photographs, newspaper headlines, and editorial cartoons of the time. Through her first-person, costumed portrayal, she will bring the struggles of World War I-era German Illinoisans to life and will engage audiences with questions and discussion.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Sarah Wingate at swingate@marioncarnegielibrary.org.