A Great Conspiracy against Our Race

Italian Immigrant Newspapers and the Construction of Whiteness in the Early 20th Century

192 pages

October, 2014

ISBN: 9780814788486



Also available in



Part of the Culture, Labor, History series


Peter G. Vellon is Associate Professor of History at Queens College.  

All books by Peter G. Vellon

In A Great Conspiracy against Our Race, Peter Vellon explores how Italian immigrants, a once undesirable and “swarthy” race, assimilated into dominant white culture through the influential national and radical Italian language press in New York City. 
Racial history has always been the thorn in America’s side, with a swath of injustices—slavery, lynching, segregation, and many other ills—perpetrated against black people. This very history is complicated by, and also dependent on, what constitutes a white person in this country. Many of the European immigrant groups now considered white also had to struggle with their own racial identities. 

Examining the press as a cultural production of the Italian immigrant community, this book investigates how this immigrant press constructed race, class, and identity from 1886 through 1920. Their frequent coverage of racially charged events of the time, as well as other topics such as capitalism and religion, reveals how these papers constructed a racial identity as Italian, American, and white.  

A Great Conspiracy against Our Race vividly illustrates how the immigrant press was a site where socially constructed categories of race, color, civilization, and identity were reworked, created, contested, and negotiated. Vellon also uncovers how Italian immigrants filtered societal pressures and redefined the parameters of whiteness, constructing their own identity. This work is an important contribution to not only Italian American history, but America’s history of immigration and race.


  • “Powerfully affirms the centrality of race to immigration history and contributes to a better understanding of how societal pressures and internal desires to ‘fit in’ shape immigrants’ responses to their host country. The story of Italian Americans in particular illustrates ‘the tremendous cost of an assimilation process that inculcates the values of white over black,’ reminding us of the powerful legacy of race hatred and prejudice that still haunts American society today.”

    Journal of American History

  • “[…] Vellon has written a book that compels attention of anyone interested in immigrant identity formation and the politics of race in the United States.”

    Italian American Review

  • “Peter Vellon offers a convincing narrative of the road to whiteness articulated by the Italian American press, and reveals how the definition of whiteness has been critical to American culture, in this case, through the Italian American experience.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • "[A] concise yet thoroughly researched book. . . . An important contribution to Italian American studies specifically and immigrant and racial history in general."


  • "Full of nuance, finely attuned to transnational influences, and attentive to change over time, Vellon’s work is a noteworthy contribution to understanding how immigrants fit into, learned, and used the U.S. racial system."

    —David Roediger, University of Kansas

  • "The enormous amount of research Vellon has performed in the archives of Italian (American) mainstream and radical newspapers is inestimable. . . . Vellon unearths rhetoric about race and Italian immigration that truly advances the fields of Italian American history and whiteness studies. . . . The book is poised to function as a vital contribution to ethnic history and will become an important resource for upcoming scholars."

    —Mary Jo Bona, Stony Brook University

  • "The subject of Peter Vellon’s work, the construction of race and racial difference in the late 19th century and early 20th century Italian American mainstream and radical press in New York City, is fertile ground for exploration, given the ways in which Italian immigrants and their descendants have interacted with non-whites and particularly African Americans over the last century and more. Vellon scrutinizes articles on race and on various racial populations in the United States from a wide range of these newspapers, most of which have never been translated, and he breaks new ground discerning Italian immigrants’ attitudes towards Native Americans and Asian immigrants. Vellon’s book is an important and meaningful contribution to existing scholarship on Italian immigrants, on immigrants generally, and on the construction of race and race relations in the United States."

    —Michael Topp, The University of Texas at El Paso