California’s Jim Crow Past

I was listening to Here and Now on NPR yesterday, and came upon an interview being replayed about California’s history of poor treatment of immigrants.  Not from a few years ago with Latino immigrants, no this goes a lot further back in this state.  In the 19th Century, white Californians drove Chinese immigrants out of practically every city. They were not allowed to bring their families to the country, own property of any substance, or accumulate much in the way of wealth.  They weren’t citizens, and essentially had no rights.

Jean Pfaelzer, a professor at Humboldt State, wrote Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans a few years ago. However, this comes up again because just recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a resolution authored by Asm. Paul Fong apologizing for the treatment of Chinese immigrants.  The story is really as bad as it sounds, or perhaps worse:

The laws, some of which were not repealed until the 1940s, barred Chinese from owning land or property, marrying whites, working in the public sector and testifying against whites in court. The new bill also recognizes the contributions Chinese immigrants have made to the state, particularly their work on the Transcontinental Railroad. (Time 7/2009)

Through all of their suffering, the Chinese in California continued to persist and eventually flourish in California. There were many lawsuits filed against cities for theft of property, but most were rebuffed under the rules blocking the Chinese from testifying in court. Yet they still brought these challenges and continued to operate within the system.

We have much to learn from our history, and much to look back upon in sorrow.  Even in the depths of the budget crisis, we can still work to make amends in whatever small way we can. It is a credit to Asm. Fong that he was able to move this through the process during this maelstrom; it is an effort worthy of our state government.

2 thoughts on “California’s Jim Crow Past”

  1. for the link; that was a good piece and worthy of attention, as you say, in the midst of everything else.  Over time I’ve learned that my Berkeley public school education in the 60s and 70s–which is where I first learned about the mistreatment of the Chinese in California–was quite different than the curriculum endured by others elsewhere.  For some this will be revelatory…but the apology was long overdue and well deserved.

  2. and a lot of Californians don’t know anything about it.

    Discrimination, segregation, elimination, lynching, extermination, slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, round ups, deportations, concentration camps, you name it, all of it has gone on with or without the Law, and some of it continued well into the 1960’s.

    Even though many Californians know nothing about this dark and brutal history of ours, the legacies of it are all over the place, and not just at Manzanar or along the route of the Transcontinental Railroad.

    Many of the Spanish missions have graveyards with thousands and thousands of Indians interred to this day; the mission period seems hardly long enough to have accumulated so many dead Indians. Except that their encounters with whites led to their demise — from disease or otherwise. Massacres of California Indians were still going on as late as the early 20th century. Public lynching continued into the 30’s.

    Housing and neighborhood segregation was commonplace and legal into the 1960’s. Brown people — regardless of their citizenship or heritage were rounded up in the ’30’s, put on trains and dumped in Mexico.

    Anti-miscegenation laws were on the books until after WWII.

    Blacks were forbidden to live in many areas of California and were discouraged from coming here at all. Jim Crow was applied just as rigorously here as in the South.

    Ever been to the Round Valley up in Humboldt? It’s been a dumping ground for “bad Indians” for generations, and it’s still pretty much a hell-hole.

    Then of course we could go into the whole disparate “justice” system for whites versus everyone else.

    The treatment of the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans and Filipinos was outrageous, and some amends have been made. A lot of others suffered under California’s version of Jim Crow — and some of them are being recognized. But we have a long way to go.

    Every time some white suburban lady whines about the nearby Indian casino that’s “ruining her quality of life,” I laugh, one of those catch-in-your-throat mordant chuckles.

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