Archives Find of the Month: A Request from the Anti-Japanese League, 1919
In a letter to City Councildated October 24, 1919, the Anti-Japanese League called for “radical steps” to curb the increase of the local Japanese population. They feared that “people now living will see the day when the Pacific Coast will be a Mongolian instead of a White Man’s Country.” The letter expresses concern about a supposedly high birthrate in the Japanese community, as well as the fact that Japanese residents were “rapidly acquiring retail grocery stores, Dye Works, and various other lines of business.” Of particular concern was the purchase of a dairy, which the writers felt was sure to lead to unsanitary milk being fed to children.
Attached to the letter was suggested ordinance language for Council to consider. A sample ordinance item read, “That no space in any Market owned or controlled by the City of Seattle be granted to anyone except citizens of the United States, and where a corporation is seeking a site in the Public Market, that no site be granted to any corporation, unless all its stock is held by citizens of the United States.” The league recommended the same license requirements for hotels, rooming houses, secondhand dealers, restaurants, grocery stores, meat markets, bakeries, pool rooms, vaudeville and movie theatres, and transportation services. As the naturalization laws excluded Japanese immigrants from becoming citizens, these ordinances would inherently prevent them from obtaining these licenses.
The League was starting their lobbying at the local level, as they believed that it would take a while for officials in Washington DC to “see the danger as clearly as the Pacific Coast people see it now.” Their ultimate goal was the passage of a national Japanese Exclusion Act, similar to the Chinese Exclusion Act that was already in place. The letter concluded, “It is up to you, Gentlemen, to take the first steps along the lines of self-preservation.”
Notice of the League’s proposed bill was printed in the newspaper, which prompted a local minister, Rev. U.G. Murphy, to write his own letter to Council. In it he took issue with many of the League’s claims about the current Japanese population numbers and the community’s birthrate, saying the League’s numbers were “absolutely ridiculous.” However, his strongest language was saved for criticism of the proposed laws: “To deprive a man of the privilege of citizenship by Federal enactment and then punish him because he is not a citizen…is about the superlative degree of injustice. Such a measure has no hint of the American spirit about it.”