Monthly Archive for December, 2011

Israel’s Rosa Parks?

The parallel was drawn by the Israeli press (and by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), who are comparing Tania Rosenblatt to the American civil rights activist after Ms. Rosenblatt refused to sit in the back of a bus segregated by gender. Charedim, a group of particularly conservative Orthodox Jews, began running private bus lines in Israel in the 1990s, allowing them to separate male and female riders according to religious custom. The bus lines have been a flashpoint of controversy and since last year have been operating in a legal gray area not unlike schools and public accommodations in the American South as racial segregation was dismantled–a court ruled that separation of the sexes by rule was illegal but that if passengers chose to do so of their own will, it was permissible. Now Ms. Rosenblatt is challenging this form of de facto segregation.

And to her credit, she referred to the Rosa Parks comparison as “a bit over the top.”

Remembering 110,000 Japanese Americans Interned in the 1940s

This weekend marked the 67th anniversary of the conclusion of one of the more controversial policies in United States history. On December 17, 1944, the U.S. army announced the end of the war-time policy of excluding Japanese Americans from the West Coast—a policy that had been in effect for nearly three years and resulted in the relocation and detainment of more than 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent.

In February 1942, less than two months after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. A month later, Congress implemented the relocation and internment policy by passing Public Law 503.

During the following years, thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated to ten different internment sites in remote areas further inland. Confined to fenced and guarded relocation centers, these individuals—70,000 of whom were American citizens—were denied the right to appeal their incarceration, and lost their homes and property.

For a view into life at one such site, take a look at the National Park Service’s virtual museum about the Manzanar internment camp. The National Park Service also hosts a teaching site with lots of pictures and information about war relocation.

Interestingly, while denying Japanese Americans their basic civil rights, the government simultaneously encouraged them to serve in the armed forces. Throughout the war, more than 30,000 Japanese Americans served with distinction in segregated units of the United States armed forces—some through voluntary enlistment and some through the draft.

More than forty years after the end of the war, President Reagan issued an official—and very belated—apology.

For an insightful study of governmental searches and Japanese American internment, check out Eric Muller’s American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II (UNC Press, 2007). Muller also has a forthcoming book—Colors of Confinement: Rare Color Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II—scheduled for publication in 2012.

Remembering Gaines v. Canada

On this day in 1938, the Supreme Court of the United States began to chip away at segregation in higher education with its landmark decision in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada.

Lloyd Gaines (B.A., Lincoln University, 1935), sought entrance to the University of Missouri’s law school, but was denied admission because it was “contrary to the constitution, laws, and public policy of the State to admit a Negro as a student in the University of Missouri.”

Enter Charles Hamilton Houston, an African American NAACP attorney with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a strong desire to dismantle Jim Crow legally. Referring to the “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson (a bit of poetic justice, yes?), Houston argued that Missouri must be required to either build a law school for African Americans equal to the all-white law school, or admit Gaines to the University of Missouri’s law school.

After a month-long session, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Supreme Court of Missouri’s previous judgment against Gaines. The decision stated:

By the operation of the laws of Missouri, a privilege has been created for white law students which is denied to [African Americans] by reason of their race. . . . That is a denial of the quality of legal right to the enjoyment of the privilege which the state has set up, and the provision for the payment of tuition fees in another State does not remove the discrimination.

In overturning the state court’s ruling, the Supreme Court laid the foundation for later desegregation cases, which would culminate in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling.