Roland Martin: Over the history of the United States, certain groups
have been excluded from full participation in the American experience. It seems
a part of the natural man to understand societal relationships in terms of “us”
and “them.” We will examine the struggle against long-held prejudice and
discrimination through non-violent protest.
Over the history of the United States, certain groups have been excluded from full participation in the American experience. The reasons for this exclusion can be grouped into two categories: individual action that results in the removal of certain privileges, and majority belief that certain groups should not be full participants in American society. The first category falls under the laws, rules, and regulations established by a society, the willingness of some people to violate those regulations, and the punishments that result. That punishment cannot be “cruel and unusual” and must be tied to the courts, as well as state and federal governments, to determine appropriate punishments.
The second category is harder to regulate. It seems a part of the natural man to understand societal relationships in terms of separation, of “us” and “them.” To create hierarchies and divisions on the criterion of race, religion, politics, and so on. This tendency creates a spirit of pride, enmity, and competitiveness. Although these practices are a part of human nature, they are not part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Savior said, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”
Through a short overview of the Civil Rights Movement, we will examine the struggle against long-held prejudice and discrimination through non-violent protest movements, action by the executive branch, and Supreme Court decisions. These actions help in bringing about full legal equality for African Americans and, by extension, other groups. We will look at the history of immigration, the different waves that have traveled to the United States, and the degrees they have been accepted by the larger society.
Before exploring in brief the history of racism, discrimination, bigotry, and nativism in the United States, we must define our terms.
Bigotry: Obstinate or intolerant devotion to one's own opinions and prejudices. It is a belief that intolerantly holds to the idea that your culture or race is superior to any other.
Culture: A learned set of expressions and values—language, religion, marriage, responsibility, family, employment, art, music, and so on. Culture is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group and has more to do with how one is raised than where one was born (nature vs. nurture).
Ethnicity: An expression of chosen cultural characteristics, such as retention of culture or recapturing traditions of family ancestral background. Typically expressed through language, religion, marriage practice, employment, art, and music. It is the status in respect of membership of a group regarded as ultimately of common descent, or having a common national or cultural tradition.
Melting Pot: A place where a variety of peoples, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole.
Nativism: An ideology, governmental policy, or political stance that prioritizes the interests and well-being of native-born or long-established residents of a given country over those of immigrants, typically by advocating or enacting restrictions on immigration. It is a fear of foreign influence associated with racism and a belief that encroaching “others” threaten the power and hold of the dominant culture and its institutions.
Pluralism: A state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.
Race: An inherited set of characteristics that make it possible to distinguish one person or group of persons from another. Many argue race is more of a societal construct than pure genetic difference. These identified and presumed “differences” form the basis for negative stereotypes and often violent discrimination.
Racism: A belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. It is a negative expression of discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry based solely on race.
Segregation: The separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means. Associated with racism.
Discrimination against African Americans can be seen as early as 1619 when the first African Slaves were brought to the colonies. The practice of slavery gradually evolved in the colonies, and was practiced throughout the entire region. Another early example of its existence was in the cut section of the Declaration of Independence. It talks about how King George “waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” At the insistence of the Southern colonies, the passage was stricken.
Though this section was cut, the controversy continued with the drafting of the Constitution, as various compromises surrounding representation and the limitation on the foreign slave trade were debated (the internal slave trade was still allowed). And as the country continued its movement west, the delicate balance of power between North and South was continually debated as new territories and states had to be admitted based on their slavery status. One of the most famous apologists (a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial) for the practice of slavery was George Fitzhugh, who, in 1854, published his tract “Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Society.” He argued against the growing anti-slavery sentiment in the North, and the small minority of abolitionists who were arguing for equality and immediate abolition. He maintained that the South’s labor system was not only good for African slaves, who were saved from the horrors of Africa, but was more humane than a free labor capitalist system that exploited its workers in the North.
We would remind those who deprecate and sympathize with negro slavery, that his slavery here relieves him from a far more cruel slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity; and that it christianizes, protects, supports and civilizes him; that it governs him far better than free laborers at the North are governed … Our negroes are not only better off as to physical comfort than free laborers, but their moral condition is better …
Would the abolitionists approve of a system of society that set white children free, and remitted them at the age of fourteen, males and females, to all the rights, both as to person and property, which belong to adults? Would it be criminal or praiseworthy to do so? Criminal, of course. Now, are the average of negroes equal in information, in native intelligence, in prudence or providence, to well-informed white children of fourteen? We who have lived with them for forty years, think not. The competition of the world would be too much for the children. They would be cheated out of their property and debased in their morals. Yet they would meet everywhere with sympathizing friends of their own color, ready to aid, advise and assist them. The negro would be exposed to the same competition and greater temptations, with no greater ability to contend with them, with these additional difficulties. He would be welcome nowhere; meet with thousands of enemies and no friends. If he went North, the white laborers would kick him and cuff him, and drive him out of employment. If he went to Africa, the savages would cook him and eat him. If he went to the West Indies, they would not let him in, or if they did, they would soon make of him a savage and idolater.
The Civil War ended slavery, but did not end the racial attitudes that had allowed it to exist for 200 years. In the tragic era of Reconstruction, there were brief gains for newly freed slaves and a move towards federal protection with the passage of the 13th (ending slavery), 14th (defining citizenship), and 15th (right to vote despite “previous condition of servitude”) amendments. There was some discussion of breaking up plantations, and giving those who had worked the land “40 acres and a mule.” However, there was a gradual deterioration of constitutional protections that had been passed and a lack of federal oversight or enforcement. Southern states adopted Black Codes, laws designed to keep freed slaves in a lower social, political, and economic status than whites, and tied them to the land with the system of sharecropping that approximated the experience of slavery. As time went on, Jim Crow laws legalized discrimination with rules designed to separate the races completely and ensure social control. Voting practices—poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tricks and games were put into place that made it difficult for African Americans to register to vote.
The brief gains in the Reconstruction period were gone, and Northern political power lost interest in remaking Southern society. And those who attempted to circumvent the new order, either with protest or exercising the right to vote, were met with quick and often violent oppression. The Ku Klux Klan, the ghosts of the confederacy, used brutal means to intimidate those who would fight the system. Lynching was the most dramatic and violent of their actions, and these extra-legal mob killings were not rare occurrences. Between 1901-1910 there were 846 cases of lynching, murders of anyone seen as stepping outside the racial boundaries that had been set. And the Supreme Court in 1896 gave constitutional protection to segregation in its decision Plessy v. Ferguson, a case that had begun as a challenge to the train seating rules in Louisiana. It put into the law the idea that “separate but equal” was allowed under the constitution, and gave the federal stamp of approval for the system of segregation in the South.
The object of the [Fourteenth] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either … We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it … The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the Negro except by and enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits and a voluntary consent of individuals …
Despite this environment of oppression, there were attempts to combat racial discrimination despite past failures. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was created. There was also significant migration of African Americans from the Deep South to the factories in the north and midwest in the early part of the 1900s, and again during World War II to the north and west. Although Northern racism was also powerful and limiting, more economic opportunity allowed communities to develop that would provide a strength and influence to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. There was a gradual realization that the movement would need the federal government to be its ally. Voters in the north became a key part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition, and began to make gains within Washington.
After World War II, the Civil Rights Movement began to change into a national force. Servicemen returning from the war began to question America’s professed commitment to democracy as they came home to discrimination. World War II dramatized the contradiction between the American ideal of equal rights and the reality of racial inequality. By 1945, roughly 1/3 of the African American population lived outside the south. Having found both the legislative and executive branches somewhat indifferent to racial discrimination, activists began to pursue their only remaining branch of government—the judicial.
Court challenges began to work their way through the system, particularly school access. Their direct focus was the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that had made separate schools legal. Schools were separate but never equal in the 17 states that had segregated school systems.
In 1954, the case Brown v. The Board of Education was argued by lawyers of the NAACP and heard in the Supreme Court. This case involved Linda Brown, a third grader, who had to ride a bus to drive to the black school even though she lived only a few blocks from the white school. They were able to show the inequality between black schools and white schools. They also demonstrated the damaging effect that segregation had on the education of black children. The unanimous decision: segregated schools are inherently unequal and unconstitutional. This decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson.
In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment …
In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868 when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws. Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. We come then to the question presented: does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does …
We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Despite hopes for immediate action, most school districts found ways around the court decision—closing public schools, opening private schools, and ignoring or delaying the implementation of the new decision. Many of these decisions were made because of White Citizen Councils that organized throughout the South. Though schools were not obeying the court mandate, President Eisenhower did not pledge the power of the federal government to enforce the law: “I don’t believe you can change the hearts of men with law.”
Another response to the court's decision was the “Southern Manifesto.” This manifesto pledged to fight the Supreme Court’s decision at every turn, and to use “all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution… It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.” Many also saw the Court’s decision as a threat to states’ rights. One letter to Time magazine explained, “Believe it or not, the South is part of the US, and is entitled to majority rule. If the majority of a state wants segregated schools, they should have them… to integrate the schools against the will of the vast majority is a crime against democracy.”
Even though there were many continued setbacks, some victories existed. In 1957, nine black students had registered to attend a high school of 2,000 whites in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor blocked their entry to the school with the national guard. President Eisenhower did not ignore or tolerate a direct defiance of the Supreme Court. He federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent in 1,000 paratroopers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the students into the school. This victory was short-lived, though, because the governor closed all Alabama high schools to prevent further integration.
The year after Brown v. Board, a bus boycott emerged in Montgomery Alabama. A new leader (Martin Luther King, Jr.) and a new method of protest emerged that would revolutionize the fight for civil rights.
The boycott began when Rosa Parks (pictured on the left) refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested in December 1955. As Martin Luther King later described, “She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn.” Local NAACP leaders, who had been looking for a test case, decided to challenge segregation by boycotting the city buses. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a new preacher in town, and was chosen to head up the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He developed his personal philosophy of nonviolent resistance and Christian love—a mix of scripture, Mahatma Gandhi’s example, and the thoughts of other great thinkers. At a mass meeting the night before the boycott, King addressed the crowd: “If we are wrong, justice is a lie … history will look back and say ‘there lived a race of people, black people … who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization.’”
Taking part in the boycott was a risky business. Jobs were lost. Police harassed those walking to work or offering rides through car pools. Originally planned as a one day event, the boycott lasted for 381 days. It ended when a federal court declared bus segregation unconstitutional. With this victory, the tactics of mass, nonviolent action had been pioneered and proven successful. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with other like-minded clergymen. This conference looked for ways to continue the fight against segregation.
For the segregation that barred African Americans from public places, boycotting was not a workable strategy. As activists had learned from Little Rock, federal protection would only come when the realities of segregation became impossible to ignore. In February 1960, a new phase of the movement began with a spontaneous demonstration by college students in Greensboro, North Carolina. Four freshmen sat down at a segregated lunch counter and asked to be served. The “sit-in” was born. More students came the next day, and soon news of the protest traveled as lunch counter sit-ins spread to thirty cities in seven southern states. It was a nonviolent direct protest, but in many cases was met with violence, and when police were called, protesters were arrested.
By the summer of 1960, students held read-ins at segregated libraries, wade-ins at public beaches, watch-ins at movie theaters, pray-ins, study-ins, and more. Students formed their own organization, the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after 21-year old Roslyn Pope proclaimed in her essay, “An Appeal for Human Rights”: “We do not intend to wait placidly for those rights which are already legally and morally ours to be meted out to us one at a time.” They believed in direct confrontation, mass action, and civil disobedience with a focus on non-violence.
Protesters were trained, “to protect the skull, fold the hands over the head, to prevent disfigurement of the face, bring the elbows together in front of the eyes. For girls, to prevent internal injury from kicks, lie on the side and ring the knees upward to the chin; for boys, kneel down and arc over, with skull and face protected. Don’t strike back or curse if abused. Don’t laugh out … Don’t block entrances to the stores or aisles. Show yourself courteous and friendly at all times. Remember love and non-violence.”
By the end of 1960, 70,000 people had taken part in sit-ins in over 100 cities in 20 states. Police arrested more than 3600 protesters, and authorities expelled 187 students from college because of their activities. Nevertheless, the new tactic worked. The movement gained supporters and attention. This initiated a new phase in the civil rights struggle..
In the upper South, federal court orders and student sit-ins successfully desegregated lunch counters, theaters, hotels, public parks, churches, libraries, and beaches. But in three states—Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina—segregation in restaurants, hotels, and transportation terminals remained intact. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Freedom Rides, an interracial group of CORE members and college students from the North who traveled by bus to test the effectiveness of a 1960 Supreme Court decision which prohibited racial segregation in public accommodations, such as rest rooms, waiting rooms, and restaurants that catered to interstate travelers. They were met with violence and anger, and their bus was attacked and burned while local law enforcement failed to protect them. SNCC provided a new bus, and the ride continued, despite the call of President Kennedy for a “cooling off period.” The threat of continued racial violence in the South led the Kennedy administration to pressure the Interstate Commerce Commission to desegregate air, bus, and train terminals. In more than 300 southern terminals, signs saying "white" and "colored" were taken down from waiting room entrances and lavatory doors. Direct, non-violent protest continued as the 1960s progressed, focusing on segregation but also voting rights and economic opportunity. In response to the violence against protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, President Kennedy gave his first Civil Rights speech in the spring 1963.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish it here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly to each other, that this the land of the free except for the Negroes, that we have no second class citizens except Negroes …
It ought to be possible … for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case …
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every state of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety …
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures … and is as clear as the American Constitution … The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened … One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
In the summer of 1963, the high-water mark of a unified Civil Rights Movement came together in the March on Washington. It was a march to advocate the passage of a bill through Congress, as well as to mark the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It attracted over 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial. This is also where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children … And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!
The Civil Right Movement continued with the March from Selma to Montgomery, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Freedom summer, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Towards the end of the 1960s, other leaders and methods would emerge—the Black Panthers, the Black Power movement, Malcom X, and Stokely Carmichael. Because non-violent tactics proved unsuccessful, these latter groups and leaders made use of some violent methods. Racial rioting increased as the 1960s ended, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and the Vietnam War took attention away from the civil rights struggle. But the movement changed America, bringing to light the evils of racism and segregation. This movement led to many successes: the registration of millions of voters, the passing of federal protections, and the structure future protests would use. This set the stage for other movements—women’s suffrage, The Red Power movement of Native Americans, Latino rights, and so on.
Most immigrants come to America because of economic, religious, social, or political oppression in their home country. They perceive that opportunities will be better in the United States. Although some immigrants may come for only one of those reasons, there can be multiple reasons. An immigrant could come for religious freedom, but also for economic opportunity, or to be with their family that has already immigrated.
With the reasons listed before, most immigration to America has come in waves. When a country has deteriorating conditions, America tends to have increased immigration from that country. This explains part of why immigrants have been both welcomed and rejected by those who have come before. New immigrants are seen as different in cultural background and less acceptable.
1607: Jamestown is established as the first European settlement in North America
1619: The first African slaves are delivered to Jamestown
1790: Naturalization Act—limited citizenship to immigrants who were “free white persons” of “good moral character”
1798: Alien and Sedition Acts restrict the freedoms of speech and press among non-naturalized immigrants
1840: Cherokee Indians forcibly removed from Georgia to the Indian Territory in the “Trail of Tears”
1840s: Famine in Ireland causes thousands to immigrate to America
1847: Mormons flee Missouri and enter Mexican Territory for religious freedom
1882: Chinese Exclusion Act prohibits further immigration of Chinese laborers (after transcontinental railroad completed)
1890–1914: Millions of new immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe travel to the United States, largely Catholic and Jewish. They were seen as socially and culturally different from those immigrants who arrived earlier from Northern and Western Europe
1908: Gentlemen’s Agreement between Japan and the United States unofficially ending immigration from that country
1924: National Origins Act severely restricted immigration by establishing a system of national quotas, based on the 1890 census. It aimed to end all Asian immigration and limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe (in effect until the 1960s)
1942: Bracero Program—allowed temporary contract laborers from Mexico for wartime production
1965: Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965—replaced national origins quota system based on race and/or ethnic origins with system focused on work skills and family relationships, opening the door to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East
1960s–1970s: Increased immigration from Asia and Southeast Asia in the wave of Korean and Vietnam Wars
1980s–1990s: Increased support for stronger immigration restrictions especially aimed at Mexico and Latin America
1986: Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986—required employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status, and granted amnesty to certain illegal immigrants
During the early years of colonial settlement, a steady stream of laborers was needed for the new land. Immigrants and slavery provided a solution to that labor shortage. A few colonial Americans, like Benjamin Franklin, expressed concerns about those immigrants who were not Protestant or did not speak English, particularly the Germans. As he wrote in 1753, “Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned, they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.” There was also a virulent stream of anti-Catholicism in the colonies.
However, in the early years of the nation, as most citizens were immigrants or of recent immigrant stock, the benefits of immigration seemed to outweigh the fears, and there were no limitations on immigration. But as different waves of immigration landed on shore, people found reason for concern. Irish immigration in the 1840s drastically changed the ethnic make-up of Eastern cities, and were largely Catholic. Negative stereotypes of the Irish abounded, and a political party, the Know-Nothings, organized largely around an anti-immigrant, anti-Irish platform.
Another wave of immigration arrived between 1890 and 1914. They were also seen as a dangerous horde because they were too different in language, religion, politics, and physical characteristics to truly assimilate and become part of the melting pot of America. They came from Southern and Eastern Europe—Czechs, Poles, Russian, Greeks, Turks, Italians, who were largely Catholic and Jewish—as well as Asia—Chinese and Japanese, who were largely Buddhists, Shintoists, and Confucianists.
Many saw these immigrants’ religious and political backgrounds as dangerous to American life. The following document by Josiah Strong, a Protestant clergyman and activist, demonstrates the idea that “our country” made up of superior “Anglo-Saxon” people must be protected from the unrestrained influence of outsiders.
Thoughtful men see perils on our national horizon. Our argument is concerned not with all of them, but only with those which peculiarly threaten the West.
America, as the land of promise to all the world, is the destination of the most remarkable migration of which we have any record … During the 100 years 15 million foreigners have made their homes in the United States …
So immense a foreign element must have a profound influence on our national life and character. Consider briefly the moral and political influence of immigration. The typical immigrant is a European peasant, whose horizon has been narrow, whose moral and religious training has been meager or false, and whose ideas of life are low. Not a few belong to the pauper and criminal classes … Immigration not only furnishes the greater portion of our criminals, it is also seriously affecting the morals of the native population. It is a disease and not health which is contagious. Most foreigners bring with them congenital ideas of the Sabbath, and the result is sadly manifest in all our cities, where it is being transformed from a holy day into a holiday …
We can only glance at the political aspects of immigration … Immigration furnishes most of the Victims of Mormonism and there is a Mormon vote. Immigration is the strength of the Catholic church; and there is a Catholic vote. Immigration is the mother and nurse of American socialism; and there is to be a socialist vote. Immigration tends strongly to the cities, and gives to them their political complexion. And there is no more serious menace to our civilization than our rabble-ruled cities.
Many felt that the United States should remain a Protestant country of people from Northern Europe. This resulted in the passage of legislation that restricted the numbers and types of immigrants allowed into the country, ending the Open Door policy. This legislation included the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the Gentlemen’s Agreement (1908 Japan), and the National Origins Act of 1924 (Southern and Eastern Europe and Asia). The act of 1924 instituted quotas from the 1890 census, which limited immigration from “undesirable” nations that had made up the “new immigrants.”
Americans have generally been ambivalent about immigration, despite the proclamation on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Some Americans have feared that a large number of immigrants could overwhelm American culture and alter American politics and government. While America has seen itself as a refuge for the oppressed, there has also been a counter strain of nativism and an expectation that immigration must have limits. For example, Jews fleeing Germany in 1930 made it within sight of the Statue of Liberty before they were forced to return to Europe. The desire to keep out immigrants proved more powerful than the desire to give asylum to a violently persecuted minority.
Since the 1960s, the United States has undergone another demographic shift, partly as a result of the Immigration Act of 1965 which ended the nation-based quota system and encouraged family chain migration. The response echoes the historical pattern—questions of assimilation, impact on the economy, fears of criminality, and racism.
Immigrants have been scrutinized, discriminated against, and denied access to full participation in American society throughout its history. Decisions surrounding immigration continue to evoke strong emotions and foster heated controversial debate.
In 2011, in response to harsh immigration laws passed in Arizona, the Church issued the statement below. It declared that an “enforcement only” approach to immigration fails the moral standard Latter-Day Saints must hold themselves to.
Around the world, debate on the immigration question has become intense. That is especially so in the United States. Most Americans agree that the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants. Unchecked and unregulated, such a flow may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable.
As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.
As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned that any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.
The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.
The long history of immigration policy—nativism, quotas, economic fears—continues to reverberate today, echoed in the political debates over current immigration policy. The disconnect between supply and demand in the labor economy continues to drive illegal immigration. There are a very limited quota of green cards issued to those who wish to immigrate legally, but do not have preferred skills or job connections.
When Alabama successfully reduced the number of illegal laborers in their state in 2013, their crops rotted in the fields, proving pretty decisively that many of these jobs are niche jobs that would not be filled by native-born Americans. There is a huge debate on the net cost of illegal immigration, whether the societal costs of providing emergency, medical, school, and welfare services is balanced by the taxes they pay in local economies. Those using false identification have wages withheld for SSI, FICA, and state and federal income taxes, yet will never collect Social Security or Medicare and do not file for tax refunds, giving a bonus to those programs. But the larger cost and danger is to public virtue, as this “cash economy” operates in the shadows, ripe for corruption and exploitation in human trafficking, drugs and guns, and difficult to police or regulate. Immigration policy must confront the labor needs of an economy that pulls in millions of unskilled laborers, and create a path where legal immigration is possible and regulated in a fair and just way.
The Japanese were barred from immigrating after the Immigration Act of 1924. The law also prohibited naturalization (the course of action undertaken to become a citizen of a country other than the country where one was born). There were approximately 260,000 Japanese people living in the United States before World War II.
The larger portion lived in Hawaii, but 120,000 Japanese lived on the mainland, mostly concentrated in farming communities on the West Coast. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, rumors of espionage and sabotage ran rampant, with many fearful that an attack on the West Coast was possible and imminent. From the beginning, the war against Japan had a very different tenor than the fight against Germany.
The Japanese enemy was often portrayed as subhuman in war propaganda, advertisements, movies, comic strips, and newspapers. There had been a long history of anti-Japanese sentiment on the West Coast, and tensions in the communities where they lived. The war only increased that sentiment. The first months of the war went well for Japan, increasing the anxiety in the country, particularly on the West Coast. News of sabotage and spying in other countries seemed to imply that the United States could also fall victim to subversion. Newspapers published rumors with banner headlines—“Enemy Planes Sighted Over CA Coast,” “Caps on Japanese Tomato Plants Point to Air Base,” “Japanese Vegetables Found Free of Poison.”
By January of 1942, calls for the relocation of Japanese people away from the West Coast reached a fever pitch, most notably amongst the Japanese farmers’ competitors. As an article in the Saturday Evening Post explained,
We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown man. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over … If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we’d never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we don’t want them back when the war ends either.
On February 16, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the War Department to designate military areas and to exclude any or all persons under the general war powers and military necessity granted to the president. It never mentioned the Japanese specifically, but it was aimed directly at that population. The entire West Coast was designated a military area, and those of Japanese ancestry, citizens or not, were removed from the states of Oregon, Washington, California, part of Arizona and other selected areas. They were then placed in internment camps located in the interior of the United States. There was no action taken against the Japanese population in Hawaii, who were a larger group, more difficult to relocate, and more important to the Hawaiian economy.
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national defense premises, and national-defense utilities …
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area herein above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies. I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.
This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.
Franklin D. Roosevelt The White House, February 19, 1942
The evidence and arguments for relocation stemmed from wartime fear and long-held racism towards the Japanese. The Western Defense Command argued, “The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.” Of the 120,000 people relocated, 60% of those were United States citizens (the remaining 30% could not become citizens because of the Immigration Act of 1924). The Japanese proving their loyalty was also argued against. As one California congressman argued, “I submit that if an American born Japanese, who is a citizen, is really patriotic and wishes to make his contribution to the safety and welfare of his country, right here is his opportunity to do so, namely that by permitting himself to be placed in a concentration camp, he would be making his sacrifice and he should be willing to do it if he is patriotic and is working for us. As against his sacrifice, millions of other native born citizens are willing to lay down their lives, which is a far greater sacrifice, than being placed in a concentration camp.”
The California State Attorney General issued a decision in support of Japanese internment in the guise of national security (ironically, this same Judge would later join the Supreme Court, and help pass the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision). The internment of Japanese people in America was a decision made by the government founded in fear and hatred. Despite the high tension between the United States and Japan at the time, the United States government unjustly held many innocent people in seclusion.
A wave of organized sabotage in California accompanied by an actual air raid or even by a prolonged black-out could not only be more destructive to life and property but could result in retarding the entire war effort of this Nation far more than the treacherous bombing of Pearl Harbor.
… Many of our people in other parts of the country are of the opinion that because we have had no sabotage … activities in this State since the beginning of the war, that means that none have been planned for us. But I take the view that this is the most ominous sign in our whole situation.
… We believe that when we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them, and we believe that we can, in dealing with the Germans and the Italians, arrive at some fairly sound conclusions because of our knowledge of the way they live … But when we deal with the Japanese we are in an entirely different field and we cannot form any opinion that we believe to be sound …
Many Japanese who are now roaming around the State and roaming around the Western States … will unquestionably bring about race riots and prejudice and hysteria and excesses of all kinds …
… In time of war, every citizen must give up some of his normal rights.
After order 9066, Japanese people on the West Coast were given a few days to sell or secure property. They were then gathered into detention centers and moved to ten internment camps (some refer to these camps as concentration camps). Because the camps required so much land, most of these camps were located in different deserts—California, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona—places people hadn’t lived previously. Almost all Japanese cooperated with the army’s orders. The camps operated similarly to a prison. They had watchtowers, fences, barbed wire, and so on. The camp’s maintenance (dust, quick construction, difficult living conditions) had an immense impact on the families who lived there.
Throughout their lifespan, 6,000 new American citizens were born in the camps. 18,000 Japanese-American men won release from those camps to fight for the United States Army, making up some of the most decorated army units in the European theater.
There were several court challenges during the war that challenged how constitutional the camps were. One of these cases involved Fred Korematsu, who refused to report for transportation to a relocation center and tried to enlist twice (turned down because of a physical disability). He was arrested, convicted, and sent to an internment camp in Utah. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court which upheld the internment order by a six to three vote.
There were several court challenges during the war that challenged how constitutional the camps were. One of these cases involved Fred Korematsu, who refused to report for transportation to a relocation center and tried to enlist twice (turned down because of a physical disability). He was arrested, convicted, and sent to an internment camp in Utah. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court which upheld the internment order by a six to three vote.
The petitioner, an American citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in a federal district court for remaining in San Leandro, California, a “Military Area,” contrary to Civilian Exclusion Order … No question was raised as to the petitioner’s loyalty to the United States. Exclusion was deemed necessary because of the presence of an unascertained number of disloyal members of the group, most of whom we have no doubt were loyal to this country …
To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures.
Camps began closing in late 1944, because the possibility of Japanese invasion was past. Japanese prisoners were released, and they attempted to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, during the four year interim, properties had been sold and homes had been lost. There weren't many places for camp detainees to go, and few had homes to return to. Many of them resettled in the West and created new and scattered communities. In the 1970s, a movement began to recognize these wartime wrongs and the constitutional mistake of Japanese Internment. In 1983, a federal civil rights committee determined that internment had been the result of “unsubstantiated facts, distortions, and misrepresentation of at least one military commander whose views were affected by racism.” With the passage of the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, $20,000 was given to each of the 60,000 surviving internees as reparations for their economic losses as a result of internment. Also, Fred Korematzu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Reagan issued an apology that same year. Part of the text is provided below:
We gather here today to right a grave wrong. More than 40 years ago, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. The action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race … Yes, the Nation was at war, struggling for its survival, and it’s not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese-Americans was just that: a mistake.
The trend toward inclusion and equality continues to manifest the divine nature of the constitutional aspirations. People have more access to agency and freedom. The Book of Mormon gives us the perfect example of the type of society we should be striving for with regard to social, cultural, racial, and ethnic differences, as we try to treat others as equal children of our Heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters.
4 Nephi 15–17 says,
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
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