1943 Magnuson Act: Blueprint For Equality

December 17, the 1943 Magnusun Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt. The Chinese could once again immigrate into the United States and, even more amazing, be eligible for citizenship. Could it be that the United States was beginning to evolve socially and become less racist? Could it be that the United States had learned its lesson about insulting other nations after the disastrous and deadly outcome of spurning Japan for years?

It seems that key people banded together and put pressure on legislators, specifically, the “Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion and Place Immigration On a Quota Basis”. Quite a mouthful. Although these people may have been socially enlightened for their time, the gringa thinks they may have lacked the creative minds necessary to come up with a snazzier title for their think tank. This group of public figures formally organized May 25, 1943 with the purpose to reverse the racist legislation of 1882 that had sought to remove from white America an ethnicity that was singled out because of its racial, linguistic, religious and cultural differences.

During the 1930’s, author Pearl S. Buck’s book “The Good Earth”, a Pulitzer Prize winner, began to change public sentiment toward the Chinese as it depicted the privations suffered by the people of rural China. Where social evolution could not reach the hearts of the American people, it seems sympathy could. After suffering through the years of the Great Depression, the American people had obviously been humbled and could now overcome racial differences as they were able to relate to the sufferings of other human beings.

Time magazine also featured articles exposing Japan’s invasion of China. With American’s despising all things Japanese after Pearl Harbor, this was a prime example of just one more thing in common between the American and Chinese people that resulted in sympathetic feelings.

Politically speaking, Roosevelt’s motives most likely did not originate from the heart and soul of a man who wanted to right a racist wrong. His concern was what was in the nation’s best interest. As President, that was his job. If Roosevelt didn’t want to lose China to America’s enemy, Japan, the best thing he could do would be to perform a significant act that would pacify any doubt in the mind of China that the U.S. was their friend.

You see, at that time Japan was using United States history to make inroads with the Chinese. Japan’s cunning propaganda plan was to play up ethnic similarities between themselves and the Chinese and also remind China of the racist exploitation they experienced with the Americans and the insult of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Roosevelt’s motives were not because he was an apologetic non-racist, it was because he was a capitalist opportunist. In other words, Roosevelt was a typical American. The State Department even issued a public statement regarding the political necessity of this act: “The repeal of this act was a decision almost wholly grounded in the exigencies of World War II, as Japanese propaganda made repeated reference to Chinese exclusion from the United States in order to weaken the ties between the United States and its ally, the Republic of China”. In other words, the United States needed this critical wartime alliance with China. So, Roosevelt formed a committee to rally everyone in the nation to get on the pro-Chinese bandwagon.

Roosevelt’s committee was headed up by none other than Pearl S. Buck’s husband, James Walsh. I guess that seems fitting since she’s the one that got this party started. The committee consisted of over two hundred people who put pressure on groups larger and more powerful than themselves. These groups in turn would lobby Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Social and professional elites of the country used their connections to advance the cause of the Chinese immigrant. When the moral argument of racial equality failed, the argument of patriotism and winning the war persuaded the hesitant.

The passage of the Magnusun Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, allowed for Asians to become naturalized citizens, and established quotas to allow Chinese immigrants entry into the United States. The citizenship gate that had historically swung open only for free, white, men and remained closed to other ethnicities, had now become unhinged. This, however, did not mean that domestic racism had ceased. Although many in the nation may have been softening, the labor unions could only see the Chinese as potential competition among laborers and a threat to wages. Once the work had been completed to change the laws, the work began anew to change the hearts and minds of the people. This work was necessary to reverse racist opinions toward the Chinese that had been about one hundred years in the making. Until that happened, equality, although the law of the land, was, in reality, a myth.

The United States has always been designed to be a capitalist utopia with power vested in the hands of the wealthy. Historically, powerful, white men managed the masses for their own benefit as well as to strengthen the nation. Racism is a tool. If it is profitable to be racist, racist practices take place. If it is not profitable to be racist, the leaders reverse course. Racism seems to be fused with capitalist political agendas. But that doesn’t mean every American, and every American politician, thinks this way. The writer of the bill, Senator Warren G. Magnusun, spent the rest of his congressional career working to improve relations between Americans and the Chinese. Men and women like Magnusun are just the kind of socially evolved legislators the United States needs to grow into a nation that practices true equality.

In 1943 it only took seven months for the power of just one small group of wealthy, socially influential people to sway public opinion and effect significant legislative change. Why, then, have the social elites of today not succeeded in the same for the many non-white groups in the United States who experience racism on an oppressive level? I guess ethnic groups need to find a way for their cause to be either profitable or in the best interest of national security. That’s how it worked for the Chinese.







Photo credit:  http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/

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A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

7 thoughts on “1943 Magnuson Act: Blueprint For Equality”

  1. Every time I read your articles, I end up mesmerized by how much you know/research about history, which makes me wonder: What is your take with the current situation in USA – i.e. Trump and his comments, Charleston and churches. Is America getting to a tipping point? Is this good for your country? Is this good for many immigrants?

    Un abrazo


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let’s see… Trump is an idiot who is learning his lesson that having wads of cash doesn’t mean you can say horrible things and people will still like you. One mistake many wealthy people make is that they believe enormous wealth is an indicator of enormous intellect. Trump proves this is a false conclusion.

      Charleston began as a terrible tragedy but I believe it will end as a great triumph. The great debate over the symbolism of the Confederate flag has finally opened the eyes of many Americans to a few specific issues. Namely, there are three classes of people who fly that flag: Racists who are openly racist, ignorant people with no racist intent who do not understand it represents a treasonous group of states who waged war with their country for the right to continue owning human beings they considered non-human because of their skin color and this war resulted in the great loss of American life thus it is not a flag of heroes but traitors, and then there are the closet racists who understand the history but are too cowardly to admit it so they make up false claims of Southern heritage to justify their racist act. This debate has made it very clear to the nation that the majority of Americans are not racists. The evidence of this is that, being a democratic republic, the elected representatives of SC indicated the majority of their constituents want the confederate flag removed from SC government properties.

      Also, with the Supreme Court making their ruling on the legality and civil right of homosexual marriages, I think the bigots of America are finally beginning to realize they are now outnumbered. The religious right has also learned the hard lesson that the courthouse and White House are not churches. It has been an interesting and encouraging month if you’re not a bigot!

      Always a pleasure to exchange thoughts!

      the gringa!


  2. So glad I found your blog – place to find excellently researched history! I can’t help noticing something positive in what you wrote here. We know that profit is a human motivator everywhere anyway. The point is that the USA has had – and still has – a tradition of “socially evolved legislators”, with wealty influential people taking up progressive battles here and there. This is something that is lacking in Southern European countries. Acting to also “strengthen your country” has never been on the agenda of the wealthy here, and a tragic example is the recent Greek débacle. The Greek environment is not racist in a strict sense, but “class racist”. Greece started going down the drain decades ago, totally thanks to the complete lack of social conscience of its powerful super wealthy citizens who have no regard for their country nor for social values. If you go beyond all the media hoopla, the emotional and mainly economically ignorant populist reaction of a few days ago is extremely bad news down the line not just for Greece, but for all European countries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The current conditions of Greece are tragic yet, at the same time, fascinating. It seems we have reached a time where most people have evolved socially and ethnic racism, although still existent, is rather marginalized. But, you are correct that the current trend is class discrimination. In the past, a large middle class typically bridged the gap between lower, working classes and the wealthy. Most developed countries have seen the middle class shrink and, practically speaking, there are now only two economic social classes. The wealthy live an insulated lifestyle that prevents them from a true understanding of the society they live in and how dependent they truly are upon the working class. There is an attitude of entitlement as well as an arrogance that their status of wealth is an indicator that they are more intelligent than the working class and the working class should just shut up, go to work and be happy with what they get. I smell the foment of a social uprising! What interesting times we live in! Thank you so much for reading my blog! History is so relevant to today because there really is nothing new under the sun. We are all like crazy people who keep doing the same thing over and over again and believe that, somehow, some way, it will work out differently! We humans are a mess!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Grateful for the conversation! Relatively modern history – say the last 200 years, like the history of the US you’re obviously an expert on, should be taught better in schools in Europe, as that’s where we could learn lessons from. Too much emphasis on Ancient Greek (!) and Roman history does not educate either the wealthy nor the working masses to understand the way forward in our very modern techno times. Humans are a mess because they’re change-resistant in environments that have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, change is very hard. I know because every time my Latina mother-in-law comes for a visit she rearranges all my kitchen cupboards & linen closets. Secretly, inside, I am screaming, “DAMN HER!.” Outwardly I smile, say thank you, and put everything back the way it was the day she goes home. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

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