Race and the San Francisco School Board Incident: Contemporary Evaluations Author(s): David Brudnoy Source: California Historical Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1971), pp. 295-312 Published by: University of California Press in association with the California Historical Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25157338 Accessed: 29-01-2018 23:18 UTC
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David Brudnoy Lecturer in history at Northeastern University, editor, and contributor to many journals.
Race and the San Francisco School Board Incident:
In July of 1971, Federal Judge Stanley Weigel ordered the San Fran cisco School Board to effect a massive school integration plan. In mak ing his decision, Judge Weigel was dealing with a phenomenon which has a long history in San Francisco and California as a whole. In 1870 the state legislature provided for the establishment of separate schools for non-white children, a provision not formally removed from the books until 1946. In 1905; the San Francisco School Board took advan tage of this law to order Asian children to attend a separate, all-Asian school. David Brudnoy discusses the implications of the School Board’s order and the national and international reactions it provoked.
Concern as to the consequences which could result from the San Francisco school board’s decision to establish separate schools for Oriental pupils in 1905 was expressed by many people on both
sides of the Pacific, as well as by observers in Europe. A representative of the Japanese-American press appraised the situation in its early stages as “no longer confined to a handful of school children; it has assumed inter national proportions.”1 A Southern congressman phrased his foreboding in black-white terms:
If the President should fail to have his way . . . and California officials should stand firm in defense of the unquestioned right of that State, the danger of a permanent estrangement between our country and Japan will have been increased, first, by reason of the blunder of the President in boosting the Japanese into the belief that they were being unfairly treated and, secondly, by reason of the failure of the Presi dent in this pending conference itself. Whereas if, upon the other hand, the President should succeed in including the
officials of California to recede from their position we will become the laughing stock in the face of the whole civilized world. Such a position will come home to grieve us, not only in Cuba, but in every State North and South . . . Indeed, the negro [sic] children and the Chinese children here at home in every State will vehemently demand the same right to send their children to the same schools that the white children attend, and we will have no good reason left for refusing these demands.2
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296 California Historical Quarterly
The cauldron of diplomatic tension which was set boiling by the school board affair continued to simmer even after the incident itself was os
tensibly cooled. Writing to Secretary of State Elihu Root in July of 1907, Theodore Roosevelt declared: “I am more concerned over the Japanese situation than almost any other. Thank Heaven we have the navy in good shape.”3 Relations between Japan and America, which had begun with such high hopes in the mid-nineteenth century, took a dismal turn. The Treaty of 1854, arranged by Commodore Perry and the Tairo Ii Naosuke, read in part:
There shall be a perfect, permanent, and universal peace and a sincere and cordial amity between the United States of America . . . and the Empire of Japan, . . . and between their people respectively, without exception of persons and places.
And the revised treaty of 22 November 1894?in force in 1906?specified:
Article I: . . . The citizens or subjects of each High Contracting Power shall . . . in all… matters connected with the administration of justice . . . enjoy all the rights and privileges enjoyed by native citizens or subjects. . . .4
But a clause in a California state law read:
. . . trustees shall have power to exclude children of filthy and vicious habits, or children suffering from contagious or infectious diseases, and also to establish sep arate schools for Indian children and for children of Mongolian or Chinese descent.
When such separate schools are established, [such] children must not be admitted into any other school.5
Availing themselves of the opportunity thus presented, the San Francisco school board in May, 1905, issued a resolution declaring its intention to establish separate schools for Chinese and Japanese pupils, “not only for the purpose of relieving the congestion at present prevailing in our schools, but also for the higher end that our children should not be placed in any position where their youthful impressions may be affected by association with pupils of the Mongolian race.”6 Though the school board was urged to carry out its segregation policy by the newly-formed Japanese and
Korean Exclusion League, for some reason it did not do so at that time. The active campaign against the Japanese which began in a series of articles in the San Francisco Chronicle in February, 1905, came to fruition in violence at the time of the earthquake of April 18, 1906, and in the next year.7 Though sporadic, attacks on Japanese grew more frequent and damage was extensive. But the Japanese, realizing the circumstances under which the city was struggling, remained patient. Businesses were wrecked, and persons, including a prominent seismography expert from Tokyo, Dr. T. Omori, were stoned by ruffians.8
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Race and the San Francisco School Board 297
On October 11, 1906, the San Francisco school board passed a second resolution and moved immediately to implement it:
Resolved, that in accordance with Article X, section 1662, of the school law of California, principals are hereby directed to send all Chinese, Japanese or Korean children to the Oriental public school [located near the earthquake-devastated Chinatown] on and after Monday, October 15, 1906.9
The Japanese press was greatly disturbed by this. One of the most jingoistic of the Tokyo dailies, Maruichi, stated on October 21 in an agitated tone that Japan should send her navy to chastise the Americans. Theodore Roosevelt went into a rage, moved to sue the Board of Education, threat ened to send in troops and directed Secretary Root to cable the American ambassador in Tokyo to give assurances to Japan. The President told Con gress on December 3: “… [the anti Japanese hostility] is most discreditable to us as a people and may be fraught with the gravest consequences to the nation…. To shut them out from the public schools is a wicked absurdity.” And he recommended passage of an act providing for naturalization of the Japanese. As is well known, however, Roosevelt favored exclusion as sound and proper policy, decrying only the manner in which some were seeking to bring this about.10
The President was vigorously opposed for his position, the San Francisco Courant remarking that “no such rebuke has been leveled at an American city by an American President since Andrew Jackson’s time, if then.”11 On December 18, Roosevelt submitted to Congress the November report of his Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Victor Metcalf, and this, too, was vigorously opposed by those who defended the school board’s action. Roosevelt then “invited” the school board and Mayor Schmitz to Washing ton for consultations, and they did come, on February 8, 1907. On the fifteenth of February a compromise was reached whereby “the Californians got what they most wanted, assurances that the influx of coolies would be stopped; the federal administration got what it most wanted?a promised repeal of the school order. The San Francisco delegation, fully aware that a surrender on the school issue would cause a storm of protest in their city, were reluctantly brought around to Roosevelt’s point of view. . . ,”12 The school order was rescinded on March 13, except insofar as it applied to Chinese and Korean children; the “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” further limiting Japanese immigration, was concluded, and the affair was officially closed.
However, soon after the delegation returned to San Francisco, mobs renewed their attacks on the Japanese.
Within two weeks after the riots, the opposition leaders in Japan were speaking openly of war, and the press of the United States and of Europe was reporting that the affair had become so serious that France had extended her good offices to pro
298 California Historical Quarterly mote an understanding. This last rumor appears to have been without foundation, for the diplomatic situation was in no way disquieting, but it contributed to the growing feeling that affairs were nearing a crisis.13
The next two years witnessed the world cruise of the American fleet, Roosevelt’s advocacy of building up the navy, and diplomatic measures designated to ward off any possible American-Japanese conflict.14 The aura of suspicion, hate and fear symbolized by the school board incident was to last, first in diminished and then in gradually heightened form, to World
This study of an important incident in the worsening of Japanese-Ameri can relations is concerned with attitudes. It is not intended here to discuss in detail the chronological unfolding of events; the brief historical resume above must suffice for that. Professor Thomas Bailey has asserted that the story is one of race prejudice and should be seen primarily in that light; the validity of his contention is tested here by reference to the rele vant opinions of various individuals, publications, and organizations. I have concentrated primarily on one motivating impetus to the affair because of
my belief that on the American side the injustices committed were largely the result of a particular racialist viewpoint; as the gyrating melody of diplomacy was played in the upper registers, the basso ostinato of racialism droned on in the lower.
In considering the affair, the early warnings of the President of the United States and the later evaluation of the situation by the President of Stanford University were kept in mind as poles between which to view the
multitude of opinions. Writing to Senator Lodge on May 15 and June 5, 1905, Roosevelt said:
I am utterly disgusted. . . . The feeling of the Pacific Coast people … is as foolish as if conceived by the mind of a Hottentot. [With] careless insolence [they wish] grossly to insult the Japanese . . . and at the same time … be given advantages in Oriental markets. . . . With besotted folly [the West Coast people] are indifferent to building up the navy while provoking this formidable new power?a power jealous, sensitive and warlike and which, if irritated could at once take both the
Philippines and Hawaii from us if she obtained the upper hand on the seas.15
Seven years later, Stanford University President Jordan observed the school affair in this light:
The extravagance of the press in both nations stirred up all the latent partisanship in both races involved. On the one hand the injuries to the Japanese children were
grossly exaggerated. On the other hand, gratuitous slanders were invented to justify the actions of the school board.16
The bold assertion of the editor of the Coast Seamen’s Journal must be taken seriously: “the opposition to Oriental immigration is justified upon
Race and the San Francisco School Board 299 the single ground of race. . . . The race differences between these people is radical and irreversable. . . ,”17 What a majority of Americans may have felt remains subordinate in importance to the expressions of opinion by those who spoke and wrote. The “case” here presented, therefore, is an indictment of America’s part in the incipient stages of the tragedy of
American-Japanese hostility by those who commented on it at the time. The heavy blame which is justly levied upon the Japan of the 1930’s and early 1940’s for her role in the destruction of world peace is not absolved by reference to this earlier American injustice to Japanese people. Without an understanding of it and of the succession of slights which followed, however, the picture of the ’30’s and ’40’s becomes lopsided, and conclu sions are bound to be distorted.18
Agitation against the Japanese proved to be a popular pastime of poli l ticians and propagandists in California beginning about 1900. Denis Kearney had hardly put down his “The Chinese Must Go” placards when he picked up one labeled “The Japanese are the Yellow Peril,” dropped, perhaps, by a disciple of the notorious Dr. O’Donnell, an abortionist who had uttered the cry “Japs Must Go” for the first (recorded) time in San Francisco in 1887. Kearney had a taste for the Apocalyptic: “I tell you solemnly that if the fathers and mothers of this country don’t see it now, they will see it later on to their sorrow when it will grow to such size that it will take bloodshed to settle it.”19
It seemed to many as if anti-Japanese agitation in labor-dominated San Francisco was due in large measure to the machinations of local labor political organs.20 Candidates of all major parties stood on platforms con structed of old anti-Chinese planks up-dated to draw attention to the new Japanese “menace.” Mass meetings were held to protest the presence of the Japanese on all grounds imaginable. Yet, despite the capital to be gained from pandering to the anti-Japanese bias of many constituents, political profit cannot have been the chief motive occasioning the school board incident, as it was hardly exploited by politicians until criticism was drawn from “hostile” sources such as Japan, Roosevelt, the “East,” and Europe.21
When the assertion was made that Japanese were entitled to attend the same schools as whites because of the 1894 treaty, the discussion of that treaty and of its subordination to, or supremacy over, local laws became a prominent issue. The matter of the legality or illegality of the school board action in light of the treaty was the vehicle whereby certain defenders of the American Way of Life declared their intention of showing the federal government the proper order of things.
The Administration’s view was expressed by Elihu Root in an article in the inaugural volume of a new scholarly journal. The San Francisco board did provide schooling for Oriental children, Root asserted, but not
3 oo California Historical Quarterly
the same schooling as for whites and other resident aliens. The 1894 treaty did not guarantee schools to the Japanese in California, he felt, but only “equality of treatment with the citizens of other foreign nations. . . ,”22 Accordingly, Root reasoned, if California provided schools for alien chil dren, it must include Japanese children too. Seeing the treaty-making power of the United States as superior to the laws of the several states, and hence viewing the San Francisco issue as one not involving the states rights theory, Root wrote that “it follows of necessity that the treaty-making power alone was authority to determine what those rights, privileges, and immunities shall be.”23 In the preceding issue of the same journal, the editors asserted that the Japanese of San Francisco had been denied proper rights and privileges under the most-favored nation concept.24 The term em ployed, in the pages of the American Journal of International Law and elsewhere, was “equivalent if not identical” school facilities.
Both scholarly and popular opinion relied strongly on this doctrine, derived, of course, from the “separate but equal” ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which enshrined as the law of the land a much earlier judgment by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, Lemuel Shaw, allowing separate schools for children of different color.25 Professor Amos S. Hershey not only minimized the inci dent, calling it a “trivial matter . . . the segregation of less than one hundred Japanese pupils in the oriental school of San Francisco,” but also dismissed the notion that the Japanese were entitled to school privileges by the treaty: “Even if this were the case, it by no means follows that such a provision would be constitutional or that, if constitutional, Japanese children could not be segregated in separate schools.”26 Hershey differentiated the “broad constructionist” argument (that the treaty power of the federal govern ment is unlimited) from the “strict constructionist” argument (that such power is limited), bemoaned that the broad constructionists seemed to have won in this case, and asserted his own view that the “federal government [does not have] the right, by treaty or otherwise, to encroach upon the
police power or reserved rights of the States to the extent of directing or controlling their public school system.”27
Hershey’s view was popular with those asserting the rightness of San Francisco’s course. President Altmann of the school board, for instance, flatly declared that “if there is a violation of the treaty rights between the two governments the fault is not ours; it is with the legislature that passed the law.”28 And such was the respondent’s argument in the case of Keikichi Aoki v. M. A. Deane, which came before the Supreme Court of California in March, 1907. Deane was principal of the Redding primary school, from
which ten year old, Japanese-born, Keikichi Aoki was barred in accordance with the city regulation, and to which the boy, through his father, Michit sugu Aoki, sought admittance by legal action. Aoki saw the word “reside”
Race and the San Francisco School Board 301 in the 1894 treaty as including attendance in schools. The respondent, rep resented by William G. Burke, City Attorney, denied this construction and, furthermore, hinted that the treaty might be “unconstitutional and nugatory” because it was in excess of the authority given to the President and was a trespass on the reserve powers of the States guaranteed by Amendment X of the United States Constitution.
Never before has any attempt been made to enforce a right of this character through treaty manipulations on behalf of foreign subjects. Efforts have been repeatedly made on the part of citizens of the United States to defeat legislation by the States establishing separate schools for persons of the colored race. Several of the States of the Union have enacted statutes and they are still now in full force and effect, establishing separate schools for negro children, and the [right to so establish such schools as has been challenged on the] ground that such legislation was in conflict with the fourteenth amendment, . . . guaranteeing to its citizens equal privileges, rights and immunities, and the equal protection of the laws.29
The halls of Congress reverberated with stirring defenses of California’s bold posture. California is a sovereign state:
The State of California has the right to determine for itself the rules and regula tions for the conduct of its schools as it has to determine any other question in the multitude of reserved rights of the States. No Court has ever decided that the General Government, either by an act of Congress or by the exercise of the treaty making power, can invade the common school system of the States, the impulsive declaration of the President about sending the army and Navy to protect the Japanese to the contrary notwithstanding.30
The treaty be dawtned:
So I contend . . . first, that there is no conflict between the treaty and the Cali fornia school law; second, that if there is a conflict, the treaty must give way, for the California school law is an exercise of the police power, and therefore superior, subject to repeal by no authority on earth save by her State legislature.31
They all look alike:
… I am for the State of California as against any race or nation, because it is an American State and part of the United States. I am with the people of California, because this Japanese question is the Chinese question with another name.32
Representative Michalek concluded his remarks by asserting that the ex clusion of Japanese labor is as important as adherence to* the Monroe Doctrine.
The bulk of scholarly opinion, however, disagreed with Hershey and the popularizers of his view. Professors Charles Hyde, William D. Lewis, Simeon E. Baldwin, and Mr. Arthur K. Kuhn, for example, writing in respected law journals, asserted the supremacy of the treaty-making powers
3 o 2 California Historical Quarterly
of the United States?the broad constructionist argument. Nevertheless, the editors of The American Journal of International Law, in the issue contain ing Secretary Root’s piece, evaluated a contradictory theory as follows:
In a very careful and sane article by Theodore P. Ion, in the Michigan Law Review for March, 1907, it is contended on authority and reason that the treaty does not confer the right of education in the public schools; that the state of California performs its international duty, supposing the Japanese have the right claimed, by furnishing equal, not identical, facilities; that foreigners cannot well claim to enjoy in this country greater rights and privileges than native-born citizens of the United States enjoy, referring especially to the situation of the negro.33
At the base of the ruling against the Japanese children there was a feeling l that Japanese could not be assimilated. Olaf Tveitmoe, a Swedish im migrant who was president of the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, who had a criminal record, and who was the alter-ego of P. H. McCarthy, head of San Francisco trades-unionism, spoke of Japan as an industrial and military menace. The Japanese people themselves
do not, will not, and can not amalgamate with out people . . . they remain at heart Mongols still. The Jap never assimilates? Why should he? He belongs to a race and a civilization centuries ahead of our own. He is perfectly willing to learn anything of use from anybody who can teach him. But everything he learns and . . . acquires is for Japan. He has no attachment and no affection save for his own people and for his own land. … In sex relations, Japanese ideas and ideals are so far apart from our own that it is unjust to judge them by our standards. As to chastity, the Jap is simply unmoral.34
Most of the observers whose opinions were reported asserted (albeit in prose less purple than Tveitmoe’s) that the Japanese is one type, the white another. Particularly was this so, they felt, with adults of the two races.35
The Chronicle explained “Why Japanese are Objectionable in Schools” thus: “Whatever the status of the Japanese children while still young and uncontaminated, as they grow older they acquire the distinctive character, habits and moral standards of their race, which are abhorrent to our people.
We object to them in the familiar intercourse of common school life as we would object to any other moral poison.”36
It was maintained that there were countless Japanese, many of them adults, in the primary and secondary schools of San Francisco: “It is diffi cult to tell the age of a Japanese boy or man, and we have learned from experience that we could not take their word for it. The parents of white children?especially of girls in the adolescent period?began to feel that these men should be excluded from the public schools altogether. . . .”37
Even when it was not asserted that the children were adults, it was obvious
that they were unacceptable: “The people of California will never permit
Race and the San Francisco School Board 303 children of Asiatic descent to sit at the same desk and occupy the same room with white children. The Government of the United States is power ful, but not powerful enough for that.”38
This, then, was the menace, the scholar battalion of the Yellow Peril army. In fact, in the San Francisco school system, there were 93 Japanese people, one-third of them American-born (thus citizens). Sixty-five were boys, thirty-four under age fifteen, thirty-one over fifteen, of which two were over twenty and of which the average age of the remainder was seventeen and one-half years old.39 (The census of 1910 listed 41,346 Jap anese in California, of which 4,518 lived in San Francisco, less than two percent of the total population of that city.) Hugh Borton asserts that “since there were only 93 persons affected by this order, it had obviously been motivated by racial prejudice against the Japanese.”40 The late A.
Whitney Griswold maintained further that “the school board seems to have acted more in response to a desire to humble the Japanese than on the merits of the case presented,”41 and there were numerous assertions by teachers and principals that the Japanese were model pupils, personally clean and moral. Yet as “tens of thousands of parents in San Francisco and perhaps hundreds of thousands on the Pacific Coast, were deceived and excited by this unfair presentation of the case, the Board of Education and the San Francisco newspapers are largely responsible for the state of feeling thus brought about.”42
Some soothingly reassured the nation that the incident would be amic ably settled and everything would be all right. Certain observers later felt the problem to have been a matter of economic competition rather than of racial antipathy. Attacks on Japanese restaurants and other non-union establishments added support to former mayor James Phelan’s observation, that “the racial question has been unfairly injected into the situation. There is practically no racial prejudice, but the working men have been urged not to patronize the Japanese restaurants, for instance, because they are con ducted by non-union help. . . .”43
The old anti-Chinese arguments about the unreliability and mercilessness of Chinese employees were trotted out, with the added filip that the Jap anese were worse even than the Chinese. California’s Hayes, the Con gressional champion of Japanese exclusion, spoke in Washington of the cheap labor swamping the American labor market, and of a people so heinous as to be undesirable under any circumstances:
. . . unblushing lying is so universal among the Japanese as to be one of the leading national traits; . . . the Japanese people do not understand the meaning of the word “morality,”. . . there is no such word in Japanese corresponding to “sin,” because there is in the ordinary Japanese mind no conception of its meaning. There is no word corresponding to the word “home,” because there is nothing in the Japanese domestic life corresponding to the home as we know it.44
304 California Historical Quarterly
The Nation’s evaluation of Hayes is noteworthy: “He indulged in this kind of claptrap in spite of the fact that the whole Pacific Coast is suffering from lack of labor. The development of all its industries is retarded for want of hands. An immediate influx of from fifty to one hundred thousand Chinese and Japanese would be a great blessing.”45
I think it fair to suggest, with Professor Bailey and the correspondent for an Outlook article, “The Attacks on the Japanese,” that the problems of economic competition and racial prejudice were inter-related, if not actually two sides of the same inflated coin.
. . . the attacks upon peaceable and law-abiding Japanese, the exclusion of Japanese pupils from the public schools attended by whites, the boycott of the Japanese restaurants last fall and the stoning of some of them this spring, are all due, directly or indirectly to a feeling of racial antipathy aroused by the trades unions for selfish economic reasons, and greatly intensified by the activity of the Japanese Exclusion League and the one-sided treatment of the question at issue by the San Francisco press.46
In 1905, the organization known as the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League (later The Asiatic Exclusion League) lumbered into existence, with the above-mentioned O. E. Tveitmoe as founder and first president. Though, as has been noted, anti-Japanese sentiment preceded the founding of the organization, there can be little doubt that the League, aided by the politicians Abe Ruef and Mayor Schmitz, was in large part responsible for creating the school question, for aggravating the boycots and perhaps for encouraging the attacks on Japanese.47 The League was particularly hostile to the school board when it returned from the “sell-out” in Washington. In the midst of the imbroglio, the World’s Work appraised the League thus: “Such a league, if it confine its activity to legitimate matters, may go far toward the simplification of this most difficult and involved question If it plunge ahead blindly, following the dictates of race prejudice, passion, or mere jealousy, it will become a menace not only to California but to the United States itself.”48
An examination of their activities evinces doubt that the League mem bers, with their single-minded determination to rid California of its Orientals as well as of its Oriental “problem,” could have served to do anything but stir up trouble. The League’s pronouncements represent the
whole spectrum of invective leveled against the Japanese, whether of an explicitly racial type or not. The school question, for the League and its allies, served as an initiating vehicle for launching the exclusion move
ment, and as such it was deliberately provocative. “The school question is a mere incident in our campaign for Japanese exclusion.”49
“We ask that the Chinese Exclusion Act shall be extended to embrace
Japanese and all other Asiatic laborers,” said Representative Hayes in Con gress.50 “Californians want to be rid of the Japanese. . . . Whether the put
Race and the San Francisco School Board 305 ting out of the way involves the US in a war with Japan or whether the thing can be done smoothly and peacefully is a matter of supreme indif ference to the people of the Golden State.”51 Montaville Flowers excoriated the United States for allowing Japan to see how she could get what she wanted by appeal to international sentiments, and he blamed the Japanese for provoking the affair themselves.52 The Japanese were accused of im periousness, impudence, of taking honors in school away from white children, of moral laxity (concubinage, picture brides, prostitution), and of a rich catalogue of sins. Representative Webb, ever alert to the dangers of miscegenation, disturbance of the national order, and so forth, was especially agile:
The free-school privilege of California is a gift to the Japanese which they are not compelled by any law, regulation or ordinance to accept. The only condition which the State attaches to the gift is that, if they do accept it, they must do so in certain school buildings, which are as comfortable as those in which the whites attend school. … It is the height of Oriental conceit to demand more. It is the climax of Japanese swell-headedness to persist in their demands, [applause] This insistence in demanding that they be allowed to attend white schools proves their unfitness to enjoy such a privilege, [applause] The sons of Nippon should be made to under stand that notwithstanding their recent victory over decrepit Russia, they cannot compel the Young Giant of the West to abrogate her laws or destroy her customs simply to meet the Japanese caprice or tickle Japanese fancy, [applause]53
Outbursts of this sort and attacks against Japanese were seen by Roose velt as cracks in the diplomatic wall “which would plunge us into war.”54 That was was the most serious conceivable consequence of the affair is obvious. Yet, we must recognize that in the many issues involved, the many attitudes of hostility and defensiveness expressed, the essential feature, that which stands preeminent, was racism. Professor Bailey has savored the multitude of ingredients in this particular stew:
The labor union group in California felt that they had been sold out; the exclusionists considered the agreement but a halfway measure; the anti-exclusionists regarded the settlement as a step in the wrong direction; the states rights advocates, on the Coast, as well as farther east, deplored the unprecedented extension of the federal arm; the Southern whites feared a dangerous precedent that might later be used against negro segregation . . . and the Japanese masses were disgruntled . . . because of veiled discrimination involved.55
The Western states were almost uniformly hostile to the Japanese, and within this hostility there loomed large the specter of race. Justified, per haps, in fearing a submergence of native culture by a hypothetical, over large influx of Asians?a scant possibility?the Californians and their sup porters veered into sophistry when attempting to bring about their desired goal, exclusion of Orientals through any means possible. Though a few
3 06 California Historical Quarterly
Western papers stood out at least partially as defenders of the Japanese, and though various chambers of commerce, churches, missionaries, and educa tors deplored the hostility, many Californians, desiring to preserve the white race against the relentless competition of the Asians, indulged in gutter abuse.56 Their hope was to end immigration and thus end the prob lem, “for the Japanese now here would die off. . . ,”57 With every weapon in its arsenal the “yellow press” of California and its friends sought to breathe a current of fear and loathing of the Japanese into the Western atmosphere. California’s friends in Congress stood ready to defend her: “Those people in California are right in requiring the Japanese and the Chinese and the negro and other alien races to attend separate schools. That separation of the races is best for every race and for everybody.”58 Some shouted for war. Representative Hayes was ready to go: “If we are to have
war with Japan, let’s have it right away. We are ready and they are not.”59 The Eastern papers stood aloof and frowned, though often with visions
of lost commerce dancing in their heads:
. . . the people of the United States have occasion to be ashamed of themselves. . . . If the people of the coast are in truth engaging in any form of anti-Japanese crusade or are showing a prejudice against the Japanese, they are open to the emphatic condemnation of the whole people of this country. Our interests in the Far East, to speak commercially, are too heavy and important to be placed in jeopardy by a
wanton insult of the dominant power.60
Roosevelt, the patrician Easterner, exemplifying a peculiar, though fash ionable, blend of polite Social Darwinian prejudice and egalitarian repub licanism, expressed displeasure both with Japan, for being too excitable, and with California?particularly with the latter. After the tensions had eased, Roosevelt, though seeing the Japanese-American crisis as the most significant in his administration, wrote calmly of the problem to Repre sentative William Kent of California: “Our line of policy must be adopted holding ever in view the fact that this is a race question, and that race questions stand by themselves. . . .”61 Roosevelt wanted exclusion of labor ers by mutual agreement, and complete freedom of movement for the upper elements of both the white and Japanese peoples.
The East was almost unanimous in condemning the Californians for their methods, while approving in general their desire to prevent “coolie” immigration. The European press was also of this mind. As the reaction of all the foreign press but the Japanese is beyond the scope of this study, suffice it to say that much European comment was alarmist in its prediction of war as a result of the school controversy, while only those areas among the world’s nations which shared California’s problems (such as Australia and Western Canada) sided with the American Giant of the West in her
approach to the problem.
Race and the San Francisco School Board 307
Japanese observers, of course, were deeply disturbed. Press comments in the first month of the controversy, October, 1906, ran the gamut of
. . . the incident of the expulsion of all Japanese children from California schools has made the already full cup flow over. . . . The Jiji Shimpo is astounded at this action on the part of the San Francisco authorities. It has not believed such a thing possible in America, the country which, above all others, prides itself on being guided by principles of freedom and benevolence. There have been of late many evidences of the growth of anti-Japanese feeling in the United States, but the Jiji has been restrained from commenting on them, remembering, as it always does, what Japan owes to America and with what feelings she has always regarded her great trans Pacific neighbor. . . . The Kokumin Shimbun, however, is disposed to make light of this affair . . . reminding them [the Japanese] that the centre of discussion is a vicious circle of western politicians who are governed almost entirely by the labour ing class. . . . The Asahi Shimbun is disposed to minimize the school incident. It thinks that the objectionable step taken by the education authorities will be revoked. . . . the American population includes a very unruly element which . . . lynches
prisoners, burns negroes alive and commits other shocking outrages. It is not impos sible that these lawless persons should turn their hand against the Japanese inhabitants of San Francisco.62
Japan was pleased that Roosevelt seemed about to champion her. The President’s friend, Baron Kaneko, called Roosevelt’s December 3, 1906, speech to Congress, “the greatest utterance by an American president since
Washington’s farewell address.” To the Japanese, Secretary Metcalf’s mis sion to San Francisco was “convincing proof of the disinterestedness and sincerity of the Roosevelt administration.”63 Though the Japanese com
munity in San Francisco expressed its indignation at the strong diet of abuses it had been fed, Japan itself was at first willing to trust to the federal government to work out a settlement. “When such amicable settlement is unattainable, then, and then only, should we talk of retaliation.”64 How ever, Japan plainly saw the racial impetus and loudly resented it: “The people of Japan, living under their gentle government, can not allow the people of San Francisco to discriminate against innocent school children on the pretext of racial differences. It is the foundation of our civilization and of our actual ability to enjoy the blest liberty of equal rights.”65
In November, 1906, the Japanese press quieted temporarily, desiring not to magnify the incident or allow it to disturb friendly United States Japanese relations. But as the racial aspect grew, the press again became disturbed. The Kokumin Shimbun urged Japanese to forget about San Francisco and head out to South America where chances for happiness were better. In mid-November, hopes for early settlement dimmed and the Japanese set in for a long wait.
Dean Mitsukuri of Tokyo Imperial University’s College of Sciences, wrote President Jordan of Stanford in December:
3 o 8 California Historical Quarterly The remedy against immigration of lower-class Japanese is to be sought in coming to a diplomatic understanding in the matter. The Japanese government would be open to reason. But to pass a law condemning the Japanese wholesale, for no other reason than that they are Japanese, would be striking Japan in her most sensitive point. An open declaration of war would not be resented so much. The reason is not far to seek. Japan has had a long struggle in recovering her rights as an independent state and in obtaining a standing in the civilized world. If now her old friend . . . should turn her back on her and she would no longer associate with her on even terms, the resentment must necessarily be very bitter.66
Japanese reaction grew even more bitter in 1907 as the order of the Board of Education gnawed at Japanese who came to regard the incident not so much an invasion of treaty rights, but as a breach of international comity. Politicians of the opposition Progressive Party, led by Count Okuma, took the lead in attacking United States’ racial hostility, and, by inference, the impotence of the party in power in Japan. Japan’s govern
ment responded by taking advantage of the incident “to create a diversion at Washington and to create popular sentiment in Japan in favor of increased military and naval appropriations,”07 (as did Roosevelt here). But it is palpably unfair to imply, as did the Seattle Call, that Japan had fomented the situation on the West Coast, using it to its own advantage to offset claims that American trade was being unfairly treated in
As the historical narrative has been briefly described above, it suffices to add that the crisis passed without leading either to war between the
two nations or to armed clashes between the whites and Japanese in San Francisco, other than incidental, isolated brawls. We know now that Japan was in nowise confident of victory in a war with the United States, that she could not support it economically (having just exhausted her finances in the war with Russia), and did not want it then.
It is to be wondered if it often, or ever, occurred to the Japanese that what they protested so dramatically and with such justice when applied to themselves, was accepted by them with such equanimity when applied to the Chinese and Koreans in America. This lack of sympathy by the Jap anese for other East Asians likewise discriminated against is but a single example of one minority group’s willingness to regard with indifference the discrimination against other minority groups by the dominant group. Here, however, the greater wrong and the greater tragedy was that breach of faith demonstrated by so many Americans. (A lesser wrong, but one worth pondering, is that the defenders of the Japanese in America were, like Roosevelt, so often motivated in their concern by awareness of Japan’s might, and that in the school compromise itself, the Japanese were there after allowed to attend the “white” schools, but the Koreans and Chinese
Race and the San Francisco School Board 309 were not.) Though the possibility of hostile economic competition or the troubles which might have come out of unrestricted Japanese immigration
were causes for reasoned concern, the “Yellow Peril” was a fiction. Though the Japanese “menace” in San Francisco was a figment of the yellow jour nalist’s pen, the potential menace to international comity, and to inter national peace, as a result of the fears thus excited, was real. That such American nativism as was manifested in the San Francisco school affair had
not resulted in even more intense international and internal difficulty, is a noteworthy, though separate, subject.
NOTES i. The Japanese American (San Francisco), October 25, 1906, quoted in Monta
ville Flowers, The Japanese Conquest of American Opinion (New York, 1917), 13. 2. Hon. George G. Gilbert of Kentucky, speech in the House of Representatives,
“The Japanese School Question,” February 12, 1907. An interesting variant of this sentiment was quoted in “The Japanese Protest,” Nation, LXXXIII (November 3, 1906), 364: “For a nation of Yellow people to arrogate unto itself the methods of civilized Powers in protecting its citizens against wrongs suffered abroad is the purest insolence.” The Nation was quoting agitators; its editorial stand decried such remarks.
3. Letter, Roosevelt to Root, July 13, 1907, in H. F. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography (New York, 1931), 407.
4. The treaty of 1854 is discussed in Sidney Gulick, The American Japanese Problem (New York, 1914), 32. The treaty of 1894 1S analyzed in part in The Jap anese School Segregation Case, No. 4754, in the Supreme Court of the State of Cali fornia, Keikichi Aoki v. M. A. Deane (March, 1907).
5. Quoted and discussed in William Thompson, “San Francisco and the Japanese,” World Today, XI (December, 1906), 1310.
6. John P. Young, “The Support of the Anti-Oriental Movement,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, XXXIV (September, 1909), 236. At that time, there was no congestion in the schools. See Eleanor Tupper and
George E. McReynolds, Japan in American Public Opinion (New York, 1937), 19-42, passim. Possibly because of the lack of urgency, or “congestion,” at the time, the resolution attracted little attention, and Japanese protest of it then, if there was any, was not recorded.
7. It is ironic that the outbreak of anti-Japanese violence occurred at just the time when Japan most showed concern for San Francisco’s problems. The Japanese
Red Cross, for instance, had given $244,960 for relief of the earthquake victims, a figure in excess of the aid given by other nations. However, following the earth quake, a shortage of school buildings, hence congestion, finally developed.
8. See Yamato Ichihashi, “Emigration from Japan and Japanese Immigration into the State of California” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1914), 281.
9. Quoted in the Metcalf Report, “Final Report on the Situation Affecting the Japanese in the City of San Francisco, California,” message from the President of the United States to Congress (December 18, 1907), 3.
10. Roosevelt’s speech is in J. D. Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Washington, 1911). In his Autobiography (New York, 1913), 411, Roosevelt wrote of the long-time strong feeling in California against immigration
31 o California Historical Quarterly of Asiatic laborers: “I believe this to be fundamentally a sound and proper attitude, an attitude which must be insisted upon, and yet which can be insisted upon in such a manner and with such courtesy and such sense of mutual fairness and reciprocal obligation and respect as not to give any just cause of offense to Asiatic peoples.”
ii. Quoted in Current Literature, XCII (January, 1907), 7. 12. Thomas Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese American Crises (Stan
ford, 1934), 143. 13. Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 201. 14. Thomas Bailey, “The World Cruise of the American Battleship Fleet 1907
1909,” Pacific Historical Review, I, 4 (December, 1932), wrote that the cruise had been in the planning for two years, although Roosevelt’s Autobiography mentions that it was decided suddenly. According to Bailey, Roosevelt had postponed the trip during the San Francisco imbroglio to avoid further misunderstanding. See p. 390, quoting the Boston Evening Transcript, July 1, 1907.
15. From Lodge Mss., quoted in Howard Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (Baltimore, 1957), 327
16. David Starr Jordan, “Relations of Japan to the United States,” in George Blakeslee, ed., Japan and Japanese-American Relations (New York, 1922), 7.
17. Walter MacCarthy, “Opposition to Oriental Immigration,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, XXXIV, 2 (September, 1909), 3?7
18. Three recent, important studies are Roger Daniels, The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion (Gloucester, Mass., 1966); Raymond Esthus, Theodore Roosevelt and Japan (Seattle and London, 1966); and Charles Neu, An Uncertain Friendship: Theodore Roosevelt and Japan, 1906-1 yog (Cambridge, Mass., 1967). Still of considerable importance is Bailey’s Theodore Roosevelt, which also serves as a handy source of some less acces sable primary sources.
19. Denis Kearney, quoted by William Inglis, “The Width of a School Bench,” Harper’s Weekly, LI (January 19, 1907), 83.
20. See Jokichi Takamine, “The Japanese in America,” in Blakeslee, Japanese American Relations, 27; and World Today, XI, 6 (December, 1906). The latter saw the labor unions as a prime cause of California’s race problem, working hand-in-glove
with the Exclusion League to incite hostility. 21. See Sidney Gulick, American-Japanese Problem, for examples of the vicious,
often contradictory, grounds for desiring Japanese exclusion; Fred H. Matthews, “White Community and ‘Yellow Peril,'” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, L, 4 (March, 1964), for an appraisal of Gulick’s efforts on behalf of the Japanese and for the activities of others on the scene; and George Mowry, The California Pro gressives (Berkeley, 1951).
22. Elihu Root, “The Real Questions under the Japanese Treaty and the San Francisco School Board Resolution,” American Journal of International Law, I (April, 1907), 277.
23. Ibid., p. 283. Root was more accurate in his analysis of constitutional and international law than in his appraisal of the extent of bitterness evoked by the issue: “. . . never for a moment was there as between the government of the United States and the government of Japan, the slightest departure from perfect good temper, mutual confidence, and kindly consideration.” Ibid., 276.
24. “The Japanese School Question,” American Journal of International Law, I (January, 1907) 150-53.
Race and the San Francisco School Board 311 25. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). The iMassachusetts precedent is
Roberts v. City of Boston, 5th Cush. 198. 26. Amos S. Hershey, “Japanese School Question and the Treaty-making Power,”
American Political Science Review, I (May, 1907), 393, 399-400. 27. Ibid., 409. 28. Quoted in William H. Thompson, “San Francisco and the Japanese,” World
Today (November 3, 1906), 1310. 29. Japanese School Segregation Case. The respondent’s brief skillfully wove in a
mass of precedent cases, including Plessy, Roberts. 30. Gilbert, “Japanese School Question.” 31. Rep. Edwin Y. Webb of North Carolina, speech in the House of Repre
sentatives, “The Treaty-making Power and the State and the Japanese San Francisco School Controversy,” February 16, 1907.
32. Rep. Anthony Michalek of Indiana, speech in the House of Representatives, “Immigration Bill?Exclusion of Japanese Labor,” December 18, 1906.
33. American Journal of International Law (April, 1907), 451-52. 34. Quoted in World Today, XI (December, 1906), 1311. 35. Matthews, “Yellow Peril,” 623, discusses the “bogey of miscegenation” which
was the “most powerful of the evolutionary arguments in stampeding sentiment against the Japanese.”
36. San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1906. 37. Flowers, Japanese Conquest, 11-12. 38. San Francisco Argonaut, November 10, 1906. 39. See Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Kennan, “The Japanese in the
San Francisco Schools,” Outlook, LXXXVI (June, 1907), 246-52. 40. Hugh Borton, Japan’s Modern Century (New York, 1955), 305. See also the
statement by President Jordan in Ichihashi, “Emigration.” 41. A. Whitney Griswold, The Far Eastern Policy of the United States (New
Haven, 1938, reissued 1962), 350. 42. Kennan, “Japanese,” 251. 43. Review of Reviews, XXXVI (July, 1907), 63. 44. Speech by Hayes in the House of Representatives, March 13, 1906, quoted in
Yamato Ichihashi, Japanese in the United States (Stanford, 1932), 239. 45. “The Japanese Protest,” Nation, LXXXIII (1906), 364. 46. Outlook, LXXXVI (June 29, 1907) 460-62. Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 43,
writes: “The Japanese children were set apart because the whites were prejudiced against them, and the source of this prejudice, at least in San Francisco, appears to have been the belief that coolie labor was thwarting the work of the unions and lowering the American standard of living.”
47. See Yamato Ichihashi, Japanese Immigration, Its Status in California (San Francisco, 1915), S5
48. “The Japanese in California,” World’s Work, XIII (March, 1907), 3690. 49. Coast Seamen’s Journal, 1907, quoted in Carey Mac Williams, Prejudice: Jap
anese Americans: Symbol of Racial Intolerence (Boston, 1944), 28. 50. Hayes, “The Treaty-making Power and the Government.” 51. Inglis, “Width of a School Bench,” 82. 52. Flowers, Japanese Conquest, 11, 12, 16-17. 53. Webb, “Treaty-making Power.” 54. Quoted in Current Literature, XCII, 7. ^. Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 186,
312 California Historical Quarterly $6. Tupper and McReynolds, Japan, abstract the journal sentiments. Papers
friendly to the Japanese included: Providence Journal, New York Tribune, New York Evening Post, New York Globe, Philadelphia Press, Washington Evening Star, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Outlook. Western papers not strongly anti-Japanese, or friendly to them, included the Tacoma Ledger, Tacoma Daily News, Seattle News, Seattle Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Strongly anti-Japanese among the Eastern newspapers were the Hearst journals; and among the Western and Southern journals, those strongly anti-Japanese included the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Call, Berkeley Gazette, Sacramento Union, Charleston News and Courier, Louisville Courier-Journal, and the New Orleans Times Democrat.
57. Samuel McClintock, “Anti-Japanese Legislation,” World Today XVI (1909), 2J2′
58. Gilbert, “Japanese School Question.” Other speeches of this nature in 1907 were delivered by Senators Barron of Georgia, Tillman of South Carolina, Under wood of Alabama, Burgess of Texas, and Williams of Mississippi. It should be noted that although the Southern legislators strongly tended, with their constituants, to be opposed to an influx of Japanese laborers, they preferred not to vote for an exclusion bill. They feared that by so doing, too much power would be given to the Presi dent, thus interfering with the states rights principle. When the exclusion vote was taken, most of the opposition was from these Southern Democrats.
59. Hayes, November 1906, quoted in Mac Williams, Prejudice, 31. 60. From the Washington Evening Star, quoted by the Literary Digest (Novem
ber 30, 1906), 632, in Jesse Steiner, The Japanese Invasion (Chicago, 1917), 44. 61. Quoted by Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 318. Daniels, Politics of Prejudice,
36, writes of Roosevelt: “. . . despite his frequent protests to the contrary he was, along with the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries, a convinced racist.
He was, however, willing to treat certain individuals of any race as equals.” 62. Japan Weekly Mail (October 27, 1906), 542-43. Of the Japanese papers, the
most influential were the Jiji Shimpo, Kokumin Shimbun, and Asahi Shimbun. The Mainichi, as mentioned above, was jingoistic, as was the Soko Shimbun.
63. Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 86. 64. From Soko Shimbun, October 25, 1906, quoted in Metcalf, “Report,” 21. On
October 25, four days after San Francisco excluded the Japanese children from the white schools, Viscount Aoki, the Japanese ambassador, called on Root demanding equality in treatment. And shortly thereafter, Mr. (later Baron) Ishii, director of the Commercial Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Office, was sent to San Francisco to study the school affair, in which city he was “most mercilessly and cruelly knocked down by some Americans,” T. G. Komai, “America and Japan: The Japanese Case,” Spectator (August 9, 1913), 441.
65. Soko Shimbun, October 26, 1906, in Metcalf, “Report,” 20. 66. Quoted in World Today, XI (December, 1906), 1312-13. 67. MacWilliams, Prejudice, 27. Esthus, Theodore Roosevelt, sees the president’s
desire for naval expansion as perhaps having contributed to his tactics in the school crisis; however, Esthus concludes that racial prejudice was the crux of the matter.
Neu, Uncertain Friendship, is less concerned with the navy aspect and instead writes that Roosevelt’s fear for Republican party strength in the West made him sensitive to labor demands and anti-Japanese sentiments of West Coast citizens.
68. See Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt, 34.
- Issue Table of Contents
- California Historical Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1971), pp. 221-342
- Front Matter
- Ethnic Experiences in California History: An Impressionistic Survey [pp. 221-233]
- The Native American Experience in California History [pp. 234-242]
- Senator William Gwin: Moderate or Racist? [pp. 243-255]
- The Political Development of the Black Community in California, 1850-1950 [pp. 256-266]
- Golden Mountain of Lead: The Chinese Experience in California [pp. 267-276]
- The Lord and the Drayman: James Bryce vs. Denis Kearney [pp. 277-284]
- The Chinese Must Go! [pp. 285-294]
- Race and the San Francisco School Board Incident: Contemporary Evaluations [pp. 295-312]
- Executive Order 9066 All Enemies Look the Same [pp. 313-320]
- The Function of Anglo-American Racism in the Political Development of “Chicanos” [pp. 321-337]
- Book Reviews
- Review: untitled [pp. 338-339]
- Review: untitled [pp. 339-340]
- Review: untitled [p. 340-340]
- Review: untitled [pp. 340-341]
- Review: untitled [p. 342-342]
- Back Matter
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- California Historical Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1971), pp. 221-342
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