Being German in Illinois during WWI

Crime to Be German

Historical actor Barbara Kay of Glen Carbon, IL,  portrays her great-grandmother, Margaret May, a resident of southern Illinois who saw and felt anti-German hysteria a century ago.

The United States was involved in the “Great War,” and some Illinoisans considered anything German 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.

Kay illustrates her presentation with photographs, newspaper headlines, and editorial cartoons of the time.  Through her first-person, costumed portrayal, she brings the struggles of World War I-era German Illinoisans to life and engages audiences with questions and discussion.

The performance is funded by the Illinois Humanities Road Scholars program and the Friends of the Moline Public Library Foundation: Part of the “Becoming American: A Documentary Film and Discussion Series on Our Immigration Experience is a project of City Lore in collaboration with the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience.  The project has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities:  Exploring the Human Endeavor.”