Work or Fight! pp 119-152 | Cite as

California: “Please Forward Chinese, Japanese and American Indians, but no Negroes”

  • Gerald E. Shenk


Less than a month after draft boards had begun inducting men in the fall of 1917, the Adjutant General of California, J. J. Borree, instructed all draft boards in the State: “You are authorized to forward Chinese, Japanese and American Indians, but no Negroes, with the third contingent.”1 Governor William Stephens and his adjutant general thereby acquiesced to the insistence of federal authorities that there were only two races in the United States—“white” and “colored.” In this binary racial system only persons of African descent were “colored,” and anyone else would be classified as “white” for purposes of the Selective Service System and the racially segregated armed forces. This surely came as a surprise to Californians who, since 1854, had lived with a state Supreme Court decision that ruled just the opposite. In People v. Hall, the court agreed that there were two races in California—white and nonwhite—but that for purposes of the law, Chinese, other Asians, and American Indians, who it found were obviously not white, should be placed in the same racial category as “Negroes.” A string of federal court decisions, including several notable U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had generally confirmed this view. Immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines, and India all faced an impenetrable barrier to U.S. citizenship because federal courts declared them not “white.”2 California, and eight other states, had barred such immigrants from owning land on the grounds that their nonwhite legal status disqualified them from becoming citizens.3 In so doing, these states explicitly defined whiteness as a narrowly restricted social and political status. In particular, they confirmed that whiteness involved special privileges with respect to land.


Reservation Land Draft Registrant Local Board Indian Affair Racial Ideology 
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© Gerald E. Shenk 2005

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  • Gerald E. Shenk

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