San Francisco Board of Education and Japanese Segregation


After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted the entry of Chinese immigrant laborers, American agricultural industry immediately started to recruit Japanese contract workers to replace Chinese laborers. Japanese workers were more accepted than the Chinese due to the Anti-Chinese sentiment occurring during that period. This initiated a new era of Japanese immigration to the United States. Japanese laborers were more likely to travel to America with their families. Unlike the Chinese, they did not isolate themselves to a single large community, like Chinatown. Instead, Japanese families lived throughout the city in smaller community clusters. Also, they had no intentions of going back to Japan, so many assimilated into Western society by adopting American clothing and cultural customs.

Because the Japanese families were more spread out compared to Chinese communities, their children attended local public schools as long as it is permitted by the parents of the white students. There have been a policy established in 1893 to create a separate schooling system for the Japanese students but since there was only a few numbers of Japanese students in each public school system, there was not enough money to fund the policy.

The Anti-Chinese sentiment soon reached the Japanese community in early 1900s after the large increase Japanese immigrant population. What started out as the Anti-Chinese sentiment, developed into anti-Oriental movement. Concerns over job losses, low wages and the growing numbers of Japanese population led to the Japanese to be new targets of blame for social and economic problems. The Japanese community was now experiencing what the Chinese community was experiencing since 1882. In some cases, the Japanese immigrants were seemed to be more threatening than Chinese immigrants because of their ability to assimilate into Western culture. Starting from 1901, there were calls for the Japanese and the Chinese to be both isolated into Oriental school systems.


It wasn’t until February 23, 1905, that the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper officially launched an editorial anti-Japanese campaign which fueled the anti-Japanese ideas that already existed within the San Francisco communities. In May of 1905, The Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was established to focus on the segregation of Japanese and Koreans and to legally exclusion Asian immigrants. The segregation of Japanese and Korean students from public school systems was made possible by the occurrence of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. After the earthquake, many Chinese families moved to other areas or temporary refugee camps leaving enough spaces in the Chinese segregated school systems to include Japanese and Korean students. Therefore the Chinese Primary School in San Francisco became the first Oriental Public School.

Anti-sentiment feelings towards the Chinese and the Japanese immigrant communities are both derived from the fear of the Oriental community dominating the Caucasian community. The idea of the “Yellow Peril” was created from this time period. The fear of little yellow Asian men threatening the standard of living for white Americans fueled racism and inequality towards the Asian community.

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