Abstract

At the turn of the twentieth century in Italy and the United States, a transnational media dialogue emerged that promoted facilitated emigration policies that their supporters called colonization. Designed to permanently transfer a highly mobile population to a region with a proportionally small foreign-born population, colonization's press coverage exhibited an elite class and race consciousness that sought to remake landless Italian migrants, undesirable in other areas of the United States, into good citizens working their own farms in the American South. A close reading of articles published in Progressive Era magazines in Italian and English, and direct appeals for settlement to the Italian ambassador in Washington, demonstrate how proposals to colonize Italians in the American South shaped the debate over desirability in a period grappling with policy solutions, both in Italy and the United States, to an emerging immigration problem. Race and the immigration problem intersected powerfully in the Progressive Era South in unusual ways as colonizationists adopted their own definitions of racial desirability that centered white southerners’ economic needs. When historians take distribution policy as seriously as Progressives did, the public debate over desirability that drove turn-of-the-century restrictionism becomes more complicated and the significance of the regional setting more pronounced.

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