The Savage Exclusion

Rebuilding the nation after a five-year Civil War, the federal government commits to providing equal rights for all people in the U.S. through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The same year, the U.S. signs the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, to recognize "the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance."

In the 1880s, the federal government responds to growing pressure from people seeking to consolidate power at the expense of ethnic minorities, by ...

... passing measures that retreat from the commitment to equal protection under the law.

Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Act removes the right of people of Chinese descent to become citizens, or, except for a few narrowly defined exemptions, to immigrate to the U. S. Many families are separated for years, or permanently. The next year, the Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, legalizing Jim Crow segregation.

In the wake of these laws, ...

... whites drive out Chinese community members of Tacoma, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Walnut Grove, and other cities, and completely eliminate Denver's Chinatown. Violence increases into the 1890s, and in 1892 white community members set a grim record: lynching 235 African Americans in one single year.

Congress renews Chinese Exclusion with the 1892 Geary Act. Now every person of Chinese descent must register and carry a special certificate. Despite threats of immediate roundup ...

... and deportation, Chinese people conduct organized civil disobedience to the "Dog Tag" scheme and fight the law in the courts.

Alameda County Court Interpreter Jee Gam explains the protest: "This Act withdraws some sacred rights such as in the Declaration of Independence are declared to be inalienable: The right to a free, untrammeled pursuit of happiness, the right of habeas corpus, the right to be adjudged innocent until proven guilty.… All ...

... this is so plain to us that we did not for a moment suppose that it could be declared constitutional,and therefore did not register." ("The Geary Act: From the Standpoint of a Christian Chinese," Our Bethany, 1892)

The early Chinese American Citizens Alliance, asserting their identity as Native Sons of the Golden State in San Francisco's 1907 Fourth of July parade.

Chinese American Citizens Alliance 1961 convention book, CHSA, Thomas W. Chinn Collection





    ©Chinese Historical Society of America. Exhibit Microsite Powered by Content Connie. Design by Big Blue Ox.