Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was

by Stetson Kennedy 1959


Chapter III - America's Great Wall

ACCORDING to legend, the United States of America is a "melting pot" of the peoples of the world.

The fact is, however, that the ingredients, which have gone into the pot, have been carefully screened for whiteness.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift of the French people, stands in New York Harbor and "lifts her lamp beside the golden door", but her inscribed invitation to the world to "send your tempest-tossed to me" has been amended by American immigration laws to be mostly valid for whites.

The roots of U.S. immigration policy reach back to colonial days and beyond. To an appreciable extent, the American policy is a lineal descendant of the original doctrine of white supremacy fabricated by the European powers when they first took up the "white man's burden".

When the British finally won out over their French and Spanish competitors for the privilege of exploiting North America, it was but natural that the settlers they dispatched to do the job were preconditioned to look with disdain upon the American Indian and colored peoples generally.

As we have seen, when the red man refused to work for the white man, the latter imported the black man, thinking lie could pen him up as an item of livestock. Then came the Civil War, releasing the Negro from the corral, whereupon the white man promptly penned him up again behind the barbed wire of segregation. Still, the country was young and there was much dirty work to be done. But far from thinking in terms of inviting Africans to enter America as free men, prodigious official and private efforts were made to ship the Negro freedmen in America back to Africa.

The slavery question having cost America so much blood and suffering, there was much sentiment in the land against any further influx of colored persons. At the same time, employer interests were in the market for the cheapest possible labor. White foreign labor of certain nationalities was cheap enough, but colored labor was even cheaper. In this conflict between popular and employer sentiment, the employers had their way until they felt they bad enough.

A vast railroad-building boom, coupled with the California "Gold Rush" of 1849, gave impetus to the importation of Chinese "coolie" labor even before the Civil War made an end of Negro slavery in 1865. Abolition of Negro slavery by Great Britain in 1833 and the West Indies in 1838 h ad set this so-called "pig traffic" in motion. Although there were tremendous economic pressures inside China, 80 per cent of the migrants had to be kidnapped or decoyed into the barracoons to be transported to distant shores, where contracts for their labor were sold in much the same manner as Negro slaves had been sold earlier.

For a time many white Southern planters gave serious consideration to replacing Negro slave labor with Chinese coolie labor. A convention of planters met at Memphis in 1869 and sent delegations to China to investigate this possibility.

In California, meanwhile, trends were developing which were destined to shape the course of the entire nation. As the supply of white labor in the state increased, and the mining and railroad booms subsided, sentiment developed for the exclusion of any further immigration from Asia and the Pacific. For 16 years, beginning in 186o, California sought to accomplish this by a series of so-called "Hottentot Laws" (which Federal courts eventually declared unconstitutional).

Approximately a third of California's pioneer settlers bad been white Southern planters, who had brought their Negro slaves and racial prejudices with them. Indians, Mexicans, Hawaiians, Chileans, Chinese, and Japanese--all were successively utilized and discriminated against by these planters. In no time, California succeeded in selling the rest of America the notion that "Chinks" were all "moon-faced lepers" who constituted a grave "Yellow Peril".
And so, when Congress adopted the Naturalization Act of 1870 as a corollary of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing Negro slavery, it not only made possible the naturalization (in negligible numbers) of "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent", but at the same time, at the insistence of California, limited other groups eligible for naturalization to "free white persons".

Interestingly, many Congressmen who voted for Negro suffrage also voted for Oriental exclusion, despite the fact that the arguments advanced by California for the latter were identical with those employed by white Southern opponents of Negro enfranchisement.
This proved to be the first of seven major Congressional Acts aimed at the exclusion of Asian peoples, introduced by California on the eve of national elections (in which both parties were anxious to secure Pacific Coast support), and supported by a West-South coalition that assured passage.

In 1882-again at California's instance-the Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted, forbidding all further Chinese immigration for ten years, and expressly declaring all Chinese, in and out of the U.S.A., to be "ineligible" to U.S. citizenship. Adoption of the Act precipitated rioting against Chinese in California, Washington, and Oregon.

Protesting at the time, Senator Hawley of Connecticut said: "Make the conditions what you please for immigration and for attaining citizenship, but make them such that a man may overcome them; do not base them on the accidents of humanity."

"The clamor of a single state [California] was sufficient to change the policy of a nation and to commit the United States to a race discrimination at variance with our professed theories of government, and this so irrevocably that it has become an established tradition", Mary Roberts Coolidge records in her book, Chinese Immigration.

Shortly after the U.S.A. adopted the Chinese Exclusion Act, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru followed suit, thus erecting a "Great Wall" against Chinese immigration along the entire Pacific Coast of the Western Hemisphere.
Australia and New Zealand also soon followed Uncle Sam's example. Wherever the British or American flag flew, Chinese were verboten.

During the preceding few years, the first contingents of Japanese immigrants had begun to arrive in the U.S.A. It was in 1884 that the Japanese Government dropped its traditional death penalty for any Japanese who emigrated to another country. This action was taken at the behest of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association, a trust formed by American sugar magnates, who were anxious to import Japanese laborers to Hawaii, having already exhausted the Chinese and other groups on the islands. By 1890 there were 2,039 Japanese in continental U.S.A., most of them in California. And on May 7, 1900, the first anti-Japanese mass meeting was held in San Francisco.

In 1905 the San Francisco Board of Education prohibited all Oriental children from attending white schools. The measure was sponsored by Mayor Eugene Schmitz, who said he would lay down his life if necessary battling the Japanese. (Japan had just contributed 100,000 dollars for the relief of victims of the San Francisco earthquake and fire).

In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt halted all further immigration of Japanese from Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico. He also negotiated "Gentleman's Agreement" with Japan, permitting the immigration of so-called "picture brides".

In 1908 W. L. Mackenzie King (later Prime Minister of Cana& charged that the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association had subsidized the potent "Asiatic Exclusion League of North America" in an effort to halt the departure of laborers from Hawaii to the American mainland.
In 1909 seven anti-Japanese bills were introduced in the Californian leglislature. One legislator referred to the Japanese as "a bandy-leggeed set of bugaboos-miserable craven Simians.---degenerate rotten little devils". Other common epithets were It skulking, servile, immoral treacherous. sneaking, insidious".

In 1910 California suppressed the report of her Labour Commissioner which said: "Japanese or some form of labor of a similar character, capable of independent subsistence, quick mobilization, submissive of instant dismissal, and entailing no responsibility upon the employer for continuous employment, is absolutely necessary in the California orchard, vineyard, and field, if these vast industries are to be perpetuated and developed."

In 1913 California adopted an Alien Land Act, of which its author said: "The fundamental basis of an legislation upon this subject has been, and is, race undesirability." The Act itself was expressly aimed at races which were "ineligible to citizenship", and it was upheld by the courts.
In 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany launched a propaganda campaign about the "Yellow Peril" in an effort to break the alliance between the U.S.A. and Japan.

At the Versailles Peace Conference terminating World War 1, China and Japan sought a declaration upholding racial equality, but eight powers-including the U.S.A., Great Britain, and the British Dominions-defeated the proposal.

As early as 1917 the U.S. Congress had extended the immigration ban by lumping all of continental and southeastern Asia into what it called a "Barred Zone".
By 1921, newspapers on the Pacific coast of the U.S.A. were saying: "The Japanese problem in California will make the black problem in the South look white." The San Francisco Bulletin, urging a strong hand in dealing with Asians, said: "We have learned a lesson from the experience of the Southern states. Our race problem is in the future. We can prevent it from developing further if we act firmly and sanely now and put aside the counsels of doctrinaires and academicians."

It was in 1924 that the Johnson Immigration Act was adopted, firmly establishing whiteness as the yardstick for measuring the eligibility of would-be immigrants. Claiming credit for the adoption of this law, which has been the basis of U.S. immigration policy ever since, the KKK in its booklet The Klan Today, boasts that it raised a one million dollar lobbying fund for the purpose.

The Johnson Act fixed annual immigration quotas on the basis of a certain percentage of the various nationality groups, which made up the Population of America, as indicated by the 1920 Census. In arriving at these quotas, however, the presence of American Negroes, American Indians, and certain other nonwhites was totally ignored. The Act declared that the peoples of twelve great political and geographic entities in Asia and the Pacific, as well as the colonial subjects of European powers, were "ineligible to citizenship" and hence were barred from entering the U.S.A. Under the quota system, which this law established, immigration was cut from 1,500,000 per year to 150,000.

The Johnson Act reiterated Chinese exclusion, and went on to forbid even those Chinese men in the U.S.A. who had already become American citizens to bring in Chinese wives. Coupled with various state laws forbidding persons of Chinese descent to marry whites, this condemned thousands of Chinese men in America to live out their' fives in celibacy.
China and India, along with certain other Asian countries, were extended annual quotas of 100 each-but Chinese and Indians could not enter the U.S.A. under these quotas, which were reserved for whites and others of "eligible race" who happened to have been born in those countries.

In interpreting the Act, U.S. courts ruled that Burmese, Afghans, Parsecs, and Polynesians were to be excluded from the U.S.A. On the other hand, people from western Asia, such as Armenians, Persians, and Syrians, were held by the courts to be white, and hence eligible to enter. As for Arabs generally, there have been conflicting court opinions as to whether they are white or not.

In adopting the Philippine Independence Act in 1934, Congress decided that thenceforth Filipinos were to be considered as alien who would be admitted to the U.S.A. at the rate of 50 per year during the interim Commonwealth period, but after achieving independence all Filipinos would be regarded as being of ineligible race, and hence inadmissible.
The Nationality Act of 194o made it possible for persons of Chinese, Indian, and Filipino descent who were already in the U.S.A. to become citizens, but did not relax the bars against immigration by these groups.

That the sentiment for excluding Asians from U.S. citizenship carried over to similar sentiments toward native-born American Negroes was indicated by the fact that in 1942 the California joint Immigration Committee (sponsored by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, the American Legion, California State Federation of Labor, and the California Grange) informed the Tolan Congressional Committee that the U.S.A. "made a grave mistake in granting citizenship to the Negroes after the Civil War".

In 1943, after a long Congressional debate as to its necessity for ideological warfare against Japan, the President of the U.S.A. was authorized to extend an annual immigration quota for Chinese, which was set at 105.

Again, when in 1945 Congress adopted a law to expedite the bringing in of alien wives by U.S. servicemen, the law was limited to "eligible" races only.

It was not until 1946 that Congress adopted Public Law 483, making Indians and Filipinos eligible for citizenship and extending quotas of 100 per year to each. Unlike the Chinese, who were given a quota of 105 for persons of Chinese ancestry in addition to the quota of 100 non-Chinese eligibles born in China, India had to share her zoo quota with persons of non-Indian stock born in India.

This Act of 1946 applies to:
1. White persons, persons of African nativity or descent, and persons who are descendants of races indigenous to the continents of North or South America or adjacent islands, and Filipino persons or persons of Filipino descent;
2. Persons who possess, either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in Clause 1;
3. Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent, and persons of races indigenous to India; and
4. Persons who possess, either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in Clause 3, or either singly or in combination, as much as one-half of those classes and some additional blood of one of the classes specified in Clause 1."

The 1946 Act further specifies that "The term 'Filipino person or person of Filipino descent' as used in this Act shall mean persons of a race indigenous to the Philippine Islands, and shall not include persons who are as much as one-half of a race ineligible to citizenship." This was aimed against persons of Chinese and Japanese ancestry who live in the Philippines.
A total Of 41 Asian, African, and colonial areas were lumped together into the "minimum quota" category, each being permitted to send a maximum of 100 persons to the U.S.A. each year. There were Still, however, a considerable number of Asian and Pacific peoples who were totally taboo. The following partial list will serve to indicate the range of discrimination:

Great Britain   65,721                        
Greece           307                          
China               105                       
India               100                       
Philippines        100                        
Pakistan               100                    
Fiji Islands       100                        
Afghanistan        100                        
Non-Asian Colonies     100
Totally Taboo                                                
New Guinea                     
Eastern Samoa                  
Pacific Trust Territory  

In addition to blacklisting as congenitally unfit to become American citizens natives of the Asian lands listed above as taboo, the U.S.A. holds to the theory, "once a Chinese or Indian, always a Chinese or Indian".

This means that if a person is of British ancestry, but was born in France, the U.S.A. will regard him as a Frenchman and permit him to enter under the quota of that country; but if a person is of Chinese no Indian ancestry, the U.S.A. will regard him as Chinese or Indian, no matter what country he or his antecedents were born in-and so he can only hope to enter under the very limited quotas of his ancestral land.

In 1951, two new immigration bills were introduced in Congress. One, drafted by Congressman Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., was quit liberal. The other, sponsored by Senator Pat McCarran, not only embodied the existing racial criteria, but also added a host of new discriminations, both racial and political.

McCarran welcomed the support of all sorts of nationalistic element for his bill, even going so far as to insert in the Congressional Record an endorsement signed by 23 "patriotic organizations". Among the signers were such notorious figures as Allen Zoll, who's American Patriots, Inc." is listed by the U.S. Attorney General as fascist. Other signatory organizations were the "Wheel of Progress" and "Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic". Signing for these were Dr. Maude S. DeLand and Mrs. Margaret Hopkins Worrell, both members of the so-called "American justice for Tyler Kent" Committee (Kent, decoding clerk in the U.S. Embassy in London, was sentenced to five years by the British for selling Hider 1,500 secret communication between Churchill and Roosevelt).

Labor leaders vigorously opposed adoption of the McCarran Act pointing out that "an Administration hostile to labor could easily use these vastly expanded powers to punish or intimidate union member and union leaders of foreign birth". The Ku Klux Klan, just as vigorously, lobbied for adoption of the measure.

"If the bill passes in anything like its present form, we might as well send the Statue of Liberty back to France", observed columnist Drew Pearson.

The bill was passed by Congress in 1952 by a vote of 2O3 to 53, and encountered only token opposition in the Senate. It went into effect on December 24-the eve of the birthday of the Nazarene, who, had he been alive today, would have been branded an "undesirable" by the Act and barred from entering America.

An official Commission appointed by the previous Democratic Administration to study the McCarran Act concluded, "It is an arrogant, brazen instrument of discrimination based on race, creed color and national origin".

There were powerful interests, however, behind the Act. The New York Herald- Tribune (Republican), in commenting on the above report, declared: "The Commission has made out a strong case against the national origins quotas, but the fact remains that quotas thus established are definite and automatically resist the pressures of special groups."
Because it extended token quotas of 100 per year to those Asian and Pacific peoples who were still taboo, the law was hailed by the press (American) as "ending discrimination". In reality, it perpetuates the ancient injustices and finds new ways to tag nonwhites as "undesirables". By clinging to the 1920 Census as the basis for arriving at quotas, instead of using the 195o Census for computing the origins of the U.S.A.'s present population, the law avoids giving larger quotas to southern and eastern Europeans.

Efforts to repeal the requirement of specification of race and ethnic classification on requests for entry permits, and the clauses aimed against Asian spouses and adopted children, were rebuffed by the Senate judiciary Committee in 195 7. Congress voted to keep the door closed on racial "undesirables", but opened it to let in persons claiming to be fugitives from communism 'in East Europe and from Arab nationalism in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Section 212 of the McCarran Act, under 3 1 general headings in seven closely printed pages, lists the classes of aliens which are barred from admittance. The list includes psychopaths, drug addicts, alcoholics, lepers, paupers, beggars, polygamists, prostitutes, those coming to the U.S. to engage in "any immoral sexual act", anarchists, communists, and "advocates of the economic, international and governmental doctrines of world communism, or the establishment in the United States of a totalitarian dictatorship".

It should be noted that while communists are barred as such, including those who are only ideological communists without party connections, fascists of all kinds are admissible unless they advocate a 41 totalitarian dictatorship" for the U.S.A. Previous postwar immigration laws which banned "totalitarians" had proven highly embarrassing to the hosts of German Nazis, Italian Fascists, Spanish Falangists, and Argentine Peronistas who had entered the U.S.A. with the blessings, and often in the employ of, the U.S. Government. By making this distinction, the McCarran Act saved the Attorney General the trouble of having to make special exceptions so these assorted fascists could enter and remain in the U.S.A.

The Act adds over twenty new grounds for the deportation of aliens and naturalized citizens (including refusal to answer questions put by Congressional committees). At the same time it gives the U.S. Attorney General arbitrary powers to deport practically any such person whom he might decide "holds a purpose" to engage in activity "prejudicial to the public interest".
An international scandal was created in 19s8 when U.S. immigration bureau agents kidnapped William Heikkila, 52, on the streets of San Francisco and bundled him aboard a plane bound for his native Finland. Heikkila, who had been brought to the U.S.A. as an infant, had been fighting deportation in the courts ever since 1948. He admitted having joined the Communist Party for two years during the Depression of the early 1930's, but insisted that he had not been affiliated with the party since then. The kidnapping by Government agents was carried out in defiance of a restraining order issued by Federal District judge George Harris. Said the judge of the event after the event: "it smacks of the Gestapo ... the thumb and screw . . . things I don't approve of. We are a government of laws, not of men, and we want to keep it that way."

Immigration Commissioner Joseph M. Swing said he considered the kidnapping perfectly legal, but acceded to the court's request to bring Heikkila back, swearing to deport him once more "if it takes another 11 years".

Senator Thomas Hennings, chairman of the Senate Constitutional Rights subcommittee, said in calling for remedial legislation: "insensitive and less than human practices such as this by a subdivision of the Department of Justice only serve to discredit traditional American concepts of fair play."


Continue on to Chapter 4