Find of the Month

October 2020 - Anti-Japanese League

A 1919 letter to City Council urged that laws be passed to prohibit non-citizens from operating a wide variety of businesses, including hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, pool rooms, theatres, and bakeries, and also to bar them from selling produce at Pike Place Market. Although the language was generic, the proposed laws were specifically meant to target Japanese immigrants, and the letter was from an organization called the Anti-Japanese League.

Immigrants from Japan were generally not able to obtain American citizenship during this period, as federal law allowed naturalization only for immigrants who were "free white" or of "African nativity and descent." Thus laws that singled out non-citizens were an effective way to target the Japanese immigrant population while appearing race-neutral on their face.

The League expressed alarm at the increase in the local Japanese population and warned that “unless radical steps are taken, people now living will see the day when the Pacific Coast will be a Mongolian instead of a White Man’s Country.” The letter was so nakedly racist that I hesitate to quote much here; the full document is available online but readers are cautioned that the language is quite offensive.

The writers believed its suggested restrictions would discourage Japanese immigrants from settling in Seattle and would set an example for other west coast cities and ultimately, for the federal government. City Council placed this letter on file and does not appear to have taken any action, but the League eventually saw legislative victory when the Immigration Act of 1924 essentially ended immigration from Japan for decades.