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The Irish Hobo.

"Tramps often threw up barriers of their own to black migration. The large number of Irish immigrants in America's tramp army suggests that the road itself may have served as a critical racial proving ground for poor white men. Notorious for their particularly virulent brand of white supremacy, Irish immigrants accounted for almost one-half of police station lodges and vagrants. Jacob Riis's disdain for his fellow tramps stemmed in part from his dislike of the 'Irishmen' with whom he was forced to share the road. While German-, English- and native-born men all found their places in the great army of tramps, the Irish wayfarer became a common Gilded Age stereotype, one that gained strength and currency toward the turn of the century. Indeed, as new waves of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe poured into the county, the equation of Irishness and tramping became even more pronounced as the newcomers failed to take their places in the tramp army. By the 1890s, the sons of older immigrants and native-born Americans were replenishing the army's ranks, while the new immigrants followed their distinct patterns of group migration....

"The rise of the tramp army in the North redirected the debate over labor compulsion toward white, especially Irish, industrial workers. These workers, employers and legislators feared, seemed as indolent and determined to flout the wage system as their black counterparts in the South. By raising the specter of the 'professional tramp' who was, as one state legislative committee put it, 'bound to live without work,' the tramp crisis conjured fears that the Civil War's 'new birth of freedom' had shaded into an anarchic rebellion against wage labor. As a tramp 'Boss' profiled in the New York Times made clear, free labor meant the right not to work. 'Wurruck,' says the tramp in a thick Irish brogue after removing a 'villainous-looking clay pipe' from his lips, 'was made for niggers. I'm a white man born free.' Basing his own racialized sense of freedom on the subordination of African Americans, this media caricature captures at once prevailing stereotypes about 'savage' Celtic racial traits and the actual Irish ethnic strategy for claiming the privileges of whiteness. For the Irish, preserving the road as a domain of white men was one of these key privileges, even if it confirmed among elites that the Irish were a race apart, sharing the same vagrant characteristics as African Americans."

Todd Depastino

Citizen Hobo, How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America. (pp. 14-15, 20)
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Title Annotation:From other works; immigrants
Author:Depastino, Todd
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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