The San Francisco Unified School District is using itself as an educational example tonight, ceremonially expunging a racist 1906 rule that's still on the books — though not observed and mostly-but-not-quite-forgotten — that calls for the segregation of Asian students.
"We have this really dark part of history in our school district," school board member Emily Murase told the Chronicle, who had the story. "It’s important to acknowledge that happened,” she said, explaining her rationale for prompting the vote, which occurs tonight.
The School Board passed the segregation policy 110 years ago as anti-Asian racism in California was at a zenith, and after the state Supreme Court ruled California had to educate students of Asian descent but didn't rule out segregation. The law angered the Japanese government in particular, and Japanese students in San Francisco were eventually exempt from the policy of segregation.
To that point, The New York Times recalls the above cartoon from a 1906 issue of Harper's Weekly. The announcement that year that Japanese students would be segregated in San Francisco "sparked a diplomatic crisis between Japan and the United States," the Times wrote, "prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to send Commerce and Labor Secretary Victor Metcalf, a native Californian, to San Francisco in an effort to persuade the school board to change its decision."
Korean, Chinese, and other Asian-American students were educated at institutions like the the Oriental School in Chinatown, or Commodore Stockton, as it was called by the late 1920s when it taught so many students that the city had to allow some to attend other nearby schools. In those ways, the policy fell by the wayside. But Ken Maley, a local historian, reportedly discovered that there was no evidence of the resolution's repeal and advocated for it. “There’s no hiding from the past,” Maley put it to the Chronicle. “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you are.”
Today, according to the San Francisco Unified School District, 33 percent of its 56,000-student population is Chinese-American while only 11 percent is white. Other Asian-American students like Korean- and Japanese-American students are less numerous, representing about one percent each.
Irene Dea Collier, a representative of the Association of Chinese Teachers, echoed Maley's call to teach the School District's problematic history. "We can say it’s all in the past, but unless kids know about how hard the struggle was to even have the right to attend school, they don’t appreciate what they have,” Collier told the Chronicle.
All a good reminder that the SFUSD hasn't always provided the atmosphere of inclusion it aims to foster today, when it's busy auto-dialing parents to assure them that it will protect their children regardless of immigration status, as it did in December, or dredging up its racist past to provide a history lesson.
Related: SF Unified School District Mass-Voicemail Assures Parents It Will Protect Immigrant Students