The second decade of the twentieth century, by contrast, would see a deliberate attempt to block the entry of black people into the United States. Despite the dramatic fall in immigration following the outbreak of World War I, by the end of 1914 Congress was debating legislation that would drastically restrict newcomers. Senator James Reed of Missouri secured quick passage in the Senate of an amendment to the bill excluding members of the black or African race from entry into the country. The African-American press was unanimous in its condemnation of the measure, and the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People voiced its strong opposition.
But, remarkably, the greatest opposition to this piece of legislative racism came from Booker T. Washington. He was uncharacteristically passionate and combative on the question and, to his credit, pulled out all the stops to kill the amendment. He mobilized his influential network of powerful supporters, white and black—the "Tuskegee Machine" - and personally waged a campaign in the major newspapers against the measure. Washington vigorously reminded Americans of the indispensable labor that Afro-Caribbeans had performed in building the Panama Canal. They should not now be slapped in the face, he said, and told they cannot enter this country. He organized a massive lobbying campaign and even black opponents of his usually accomodationist positions, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and cofounder of the NAACP and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter, joined forces with him on this issue.
The Immigration Act of 1924 drastically turned the tide of Caribbean immigration to the United States. It plummeted from 10,630 in 1924 to only 321 in 1925. Primarily aimed at restricting nonwhite and Southern and Eastern European immigration, the law stipulated an immigration quota system of 2 percent of the foreign-born for each nationality enumerated in the 1890 census.
Northwestern Europe was favored in this system, while those from the European colonies could only enter under the designated quota allotted to their colonial masters. Thus those from the British Caribbean entered under the British quota set at 34,007 in 1925. Remarkably, although Britain consistently underused its quota by several thousands, the Caribbean migration was kept low, never rising in the late 1920s and 1930s to the levels reached before the 1924 legislation.
During the Depression, more Caribbean people returned to the islands than entered the United States, owing to economic hardship and an even more restrictive immigration policy. Despite all this, the black population of foreign origin and their American-born offspring grew from 55,000 in 1900 to 178,000 in 1930. Migrants from the islands, together with those of Caribbean origin coming from Central America, made up over 80 percent of the total.