A guest post by commenter Jefe:
Chinese Americans in Mississippi under Jim Crow (1877-1967) were classified as “colored”. In the 1920s, when it started to affect the education of their children, they fought back. By the 1950s they were almost “white”.
What being “colored” meant for them:
- Employment: In the Mississippi Delta nearly all Chinese men became self-employed grocers to black sharecroppers, a niche whites did not want.
- Marriage and family: Anti-miscegenation laws added “Mongolian” and “Malay” as races that could not marry whites. Meanwhile the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made it nearly impossible to bring over wives or brides from China. Most Chinese men remained bachelors, though some married black. After 1910 “Paper Sons and Daughters” began to arrive from China, through a loophole in the Exclusion Act created by the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.
- Education: In the 1920s their children were kicked out of white schools and forced to go to the immensely inferior coloured schools. Gong Lum of Rosedale, Mississippi took it to the Supreme Court. He lost: in Lum v Rice (1927) the Supreme Court ruled that any jurisdiction could classify a non-white group as “colored” as long as “equal” facilities were provided.
To fight this, Chinese Americans:
- Set up their own schools. By the 1930s Mississippi had dozens of Chinese schools.
- Contributed money to white institutions (churches, civic organizations, social clubs, politicians, etc.).
- Became Christians through Chinese missions opened up by white churches.
- Had white people witness them mimicking whites in their treatment of blacks.
It slowly took effect. Some churches closed their Chinese missions and let their congregations attend the white churches. Some districts could not afford schools for 3 separate races and eventually closed the Chinese schools. If one white school would not accept Chinese students, parents would send their kids to a school in another district. The acceptance to white institutions was not universal; it often depended on the whites in the local community.
One Chinese group was left behind – those who married black or were part black. Whites made it very clear that in order to let Chinese into any white institution, they must guarantee that they were full Chinese with no “Negro” blood.
By the early 1950s, the separate Chinese schools had closed and most Chinese children were attending white schools. Chinese had to work continuously to gain “white” status. Some contributed to the White Citizens Council to oppose segregation - while some also contributed to the NAACP to appease their black customers. They always had to walk a racial tightrope to please whites without offending blacks.
They would be “white” for some things, but not for others. They could attend the white schools, but could not be valedictorian or date any whites. They were not always permitted to move into white neighborhoods.
In 1954 Brown v Board overturned Lum v Rice.
In 1967 Loving v Virginia overturned anti-miscegenation laws.
By the 1960s, mechanization had replaced hand labour in the cotton fields. The Delta lost much of its black population in the Great Migration. With their customer base disappearing, most Chinese were leaving the Delta by the 1970s – after spending decades trying to be accepted as “white”.
- External links:
- The White Club
- Jim Crow
- Emmett Till (who was lynched in the Mississippi delta in 1955)
- James W. Loewen: Lies My Teacher Told Me
- The Nadir of American race relations
- American school resegregation
- Settlement of Asians in the Deep South (1763 – 1882)
- Chinese Americans in the Deep South after 1882
- Chinese Exclusion Act
- Paper Son
- The Great Migration