Native Sons of the Golden West/Native Daughters of the Golden West

Affiliated California fraternal organizations that fought to annul the civil rights of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Founded respectively in 1875 and 1886, the Native Sons of the Golden West (NSGW) and Native Daughters of the Golden West (NDGW) are fraternal organizations officially dedicated to preserving the history of California. Although in theory membership in the twin groups was, from the beginning, open to any California-born citizens, both groups were in reality all-white, and they served as the leading organizational vehicles for anti-Japanese activism in California over the prewar decades. As early as 1907, the Native Sons approved a resolution calling for the exclusion of all "orientals" from California. [1] In 1920, two years after the Native Sons founded a Committee on Asiatic Matters, the Native Sons joined the American Legion, the California State Grange, and the state Federation of Labor to form the California Joint Immigration Committee (CJIC), whose leaders pressured each of the state's representatives to lobby for total exclusion of Asian immigrants. Even after exclusion was enacted in the Immigration Act of 1924 , the Native Sons continued their efforts (both through the CJIC and on their own) to stigmatize all Japanese Americans, including the American-born. The Native Sons' monthly newspaper, The Grizzly Bear , repeatedly published false and distorted information about the alleged unassimilability of Japanese Americans, the growth of Japanese American birthrates, and the supposed perils of interracial marriage. Beyond its resolutions and publications, the Native Sons exerted influence on policy by means of the close relations the Order maintained with dozens of political leaders, such as U.S. Senators James D. Phelan and Hiram Johnson , as well as longtime State Attorneys General U. S. Webb and Earl Warren .

Attacking Japanese American Citizenship

In early 1942, the Native Sons, in partnership with other nativist and white commercial groups, undertook a mass propaganda campaign for removal of West Coast Japanese Americans. During the Tolan Committee hearings on the West Coast "Japanese" situation, the CJIC presented a memorandum in which it not only called for mass exclusion, but deplored the granting of citizenship to American-born children of Asian parents. [2]

In the wake of Executive Order 9066 , the Native Sons threw themselves into action, no doubt recognizing that the spike in popular anti-Japanese feeling surrounding mass removal offered them a window of opportunity to press for radical change. Notably, in May 1942, their 65th Grand Parlor (convention) officially voted resolutions to strip Japanese Americans of citizenship: "first to prosecute, then to carry through to the Supreme Court of the United States, if necessary, a suit challenging the United States citizenship of the Japanese; and second to draft and sponsor an amendment to the Constitution of the United States which shall have for its object the exclusion of all persons of Japanese ancestry from American citizenship."

With support from the twin groups, John T. Regan, longtime Grand Secretary of the Native Sons, sued San Francisco County Registrar Cameron King in federal court to remove 90 named Nisei from the voting rolls. The openly avowed goal of the Native Sons was to rescind the voting rights of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, as a step toward overturning the citizenship of all nonwhite Americans. Longtime state attorney general and Native Sons stalwart U.S. Webb agreed to serve as counsel. The case, captioned Regan v. King , was argued in Federal District Court in June 1942. On July 2, 1942, Judge St. Sure ruled against the Native Sons, citing Supreme Court precedent. Webb then appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawyers from the JACL , ACLU and NAACP and other organizations submitted amicus curiae briefs strongly rejecting the Native Sons' claims. On February 19, 1943, the Ninth Circuit court heard the appeal in Regan. However, once Webb had stated his case, and before the defense had even begun its presentation, the judges rapidly caucused and then announced that the case was dismissed.

Continued Anti-Japanese Agitation

Even after the Regan case was thrown out by the courts, Native Sons leaders continued efforts to disempower Japanese Americans in the legislative arena. The group's board voted a resolution to amend the 14th Amendment to the U.S Constitution to state "All persons born of citizens or naturalized in the United States and subjected to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the states in which they reside," although the measure never reached the floor of Congress. Meanwhile, the Native Sons lobbied for measures ensuring that mass deportation and a permanent ban on immigration be included in any postwar peace treaty with Japan.

The Native Sons also concentrated on ensuring that confined Japanese Americans remained excluded from California. Throughout 1943-44 the Native Sons concentrated on organizing local chapters to form committees and oppose return, and helped form the "Pacific Coast Japanese Problem Conference," as a racist lobbying group. [3] The central organization put together a pamphlet, "Why the West Coast Opposes the Japanese," to campaign for mass exclusion and deportation of Japanese Americans. Even after army officials announced in December 1944 that exclusion would be lifted after the new year, the Native Sons remained adamant over exclusion, insisting despite the evidence that their position reflected solely security concerns and not racial bias.

In order to deter Japanese Americans from returning, the Native Sons' Committee on Japanese legislation helped push discriminatory legislation during 1943-44. One bill explicitly deprived all Japanese aliens of fishing licenses. Another appropriated $200,000 to fund escheat suits to take property away from Japanese aliens who had acquired it in violation of the Alien land Act . These twin legislative actions would cause Japanese Americans great misery in the early postwar period, and would eventually lead to the landmark Supreme Court civil rights cases of Oyama v. California and Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission . [4]

During the postwar years, the Native Sons repeatedly opposed statehood for Hawai'i because of its large ethnic Japanese population. In November 1945, they announced that all surplus housing should be given to returning veterans (presumably white) and that Japanese Americans be returned to confinement in WRA camps until the postwar housing shortage was over. [5] However, as race-based hostility to Asian Americans lessened in the postwar years, the Native Sons gradually distanced themselves from their earlier positions and stressed their role as historic preservationists.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

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

Robinson, Greg, with Frank H. Wu. "In Defense of Birthright Citizenship: The JACL, the NAACP, and Regan v. King . AABANY Law Review 3 (2014): 1-44.


  1. Peter T. Conmy, "The History of California's Japanese Problem and the Part Played by the Native Sons of the Golden West in its Solution," pamphlet, Native Sons, July 1, 1942. Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, 2.
  2. Allan R. Bosworth, America's Concentration Camps (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), 77-78.
  3. "Body Formed to Keep Japs Away for Good," San Mateo Times , May 27, 1943, 1.
  4. For the postwar Japanese American cases and their connection to Brown v. Board of Education , see Greg Robinson and Toni Robinson, "Korematsu and Beyond: Japanese Americans and the Origins of Strict Scrutiny," Law & Contemporary Problems 68.2 (Spring 2005): 29-55.
  5. "Sons of Golden West Rap Nisei Housing Policy", Fresno Bee , November 12, 1945, 2.

Last updated March 17, 2024, 4:19 a.m..