San Francisco school segregation


On October 11, 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education attempted to force the 93 Japanese students who were attending public school in San Francisco to attend the segregated Chinese school. The school board was responding to pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League in California that had the ultimate goal of ending Japanese immigration to California. Japanese Americans protested, but when they were unable to succeed in their efforts to change the School Board's decision, they alerted the Japanese media and Japanese government officials. Japan officially protested. On October 26, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt publicly opposed the San Francisco School Board's decision. He did not fundamentally disagree with the point of view of exclusionists who wanted to limit immigration from Japan. Instead, Roosevelt had just negotiated peace between Japan and Russia to end the Russo-Japanese War. He did not want to antagonize or incite an international incident with Japan, which had catapulted to the position of a world military power.[1] In his State of the Union Address the President delivered to Congress on December 3, 1906, he admonished those who refused to respect Japanese immigrants in the United States as uncivilized:

The overwhelming mass of our people cherish a lively regard and respect for the people of Japan, and in almost every quarter of the Union the stranger from Japan is treated as he deserves; that is, he is treated as the stranger from any part of civilized Europe is and deserves to be treated. But here and there a most unworthy feeling has manifested itself toward the Japanese—the feeling that has been shown in shutting them out from the common schools in San Francisco, and in mutterings against them in one or two other places, because of their efficiency as workers. To shut them out from the public schools is a wicked absurdity, when there are no first-class colleges in the land, including the universities and colleges of California, which do not gladly welcome Japanese students and on which Japanese students do not reflect credit. We have as much to learn from Japan as Japan has to learn from us; and no nation is fit to teach unless it is also willing to learn. Throughout Japan Americans are well treated, and any failure on the part of Americans at home to treat the Japanese with a like courtesy and consideration is by just so much a confession of inferiority in our civilization.[2]

President Roosevelt invited a delegation of state representatives and the mayor of San Francisco to the White House on January 3, 1907, to discuss ways they might reduce tensions in San Francisco and avoid an international incident with Japan. As a result, the leadership of San Francisco agreed to rescind the segregation order and President Roosevelt agreed to take official action to curb continued immigration from Japan. Roosevelt ordered an end to immigration of Japanese to the United States from Hawai'i, Canada and Mexico, and Secretary of State Elihu Root and Foreign Minister Hayashi of Japan began negotiations whereby Japan would stop granting visas to laborers seeking permission to emigrate to the United States. These negotiations resulted in the Gentlemen's Agreement.

After World War II, as court cases were filed challenging school segregation in California and across the country, the San Francisco school segregation case appeared once again. Carey McWilliams recalled President Roosevelt's condemnation of San Francisco's attempt to segregate Japanese children in 1906 in response to the pending (and eventually successful) case of Mendez v. Westminster in which lawyers argued that segregation of Mexican and Mexican American children into "Mexican" schools was unconstitutional. The American Jewish Congress picked up McWilliams' article and reprinted it widely hoping that his message would resonate with others rethinking public school segregation.[3]

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

Azuma, Eiichiro. Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America. New York: Oxford, 2005.

Chuman, Frank F. The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese-Americans. Del Mar, Calif.: Publisher's Inc., 1976.

Daniels, Roger. The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.

"Do Not Embarrass the Administration," Harper's Weekly, November 10, 1906. Available at: http://www.harpweek.com/09Cartoon/BrowseByDateCartoon.asp?Month=November&Date=10

Japanese American Citizens League, "Asian American History."

Robinson, Greg. After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Sawada, Mitziko. "Culprits and Gentlemen: Meiji Japan's Restrictions of Emigrants to the United States, 1891-1909." Pacific Historical Review 60.3 (Aug., 1991): 339-59.

Footnotes

  1. Roger Daniels, The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), 35-36.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt, Annual message to Congress, December 4, 1906. Available at: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1315.
  3. Greg Robinson, After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 130.