How the 1924 Immigration Act Helped Build the Black Middle Class

ARLINGTON, Va., May 29, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Exactly 100 years ago this week, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bipartisan immigration bill that first forged and then boosted the economic and political power of the American middle class. “This is best seen in those most disproportionately affected by high immigration: Black Americans,” indicated James Massa, CEO of NumbersUSA, the nation’s largest nonpartisan immigration reform organization.

Once the law took effect, Black Americans’ standard of living improved almost immediately. By 1929, civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois noted that “the stopping of the importing of cheap white labor on any terms has been the economic salvation of American black labor.” Between 1940 and 1980, Black men’s real incomes multiplied fourfold. Seven in 10 Black Americans belonged to the middle class by 1980 — up from two in 10 in 1940.

“The so-called Great Wave of immigration allowed employers to discriminate against freed slaves and their descendants and hire white European immigrants instead,” said Andre Barnes, HBCU Engagement Director for NumbersUSA. “The 1924 Immigration Act changed this dynamic by dramatically reducing annual immigration and effectively ending mass migration from Europe. The law tightened labor markets and gave Black Americans the leverage they needed to win better wages and working conditions.”

Contemporary Black activists and union leaders overwhelmingly supported the 1924 Immigration Act. “This country is suffering from immigrant indigestion,” wrote Black union organizer A. Philip Randolph shortly before the law passed. He and others recognized that unfettered immigration was driving down wages for Black Americans.

“The 1924 Immigration Act wasn’t perfect — far from it,” admitted Barnes. “It imposed discriminatory national origins quotas that favored northern Europeans at the expense of Asians, Africans, and southern and eastern Europeans. But the law got immigration levels right — and resulted in decades of upward mobility for Black Americans. Congress today can learn something from that history.”

To request an interview with Andre, please contact Emeline Bogle at (202) 970-9742 or

About NumbersUSA

NumbersUSA supports a balanced immigration system that welcomes the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, is responsive to acute refugee crises, attracts those with extraordinary ability and talents, addresses temporary labor shortages, protects the most vulnerable, and is enforced. NumbersUSA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that believes better immigration policy is possible. Focused exclusively on immigration reform, NumbersUSA is America’s largest single-issue advocacy group with over 8 million grassroots members and supporters spread across every congressional district. Founded solely by Roy Beck in 1996 to promote civil debate on the immigration recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform — chaired by civil rights icon Barbara Jordan — NumbersUSA continues to advocate for sensible immigration policies that ensure Americans’ safety, promote economic fairness, while conserving the environment and quality of life.

Media Contact:
Emeline Bogle
(202) 970-9742