Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present: A Documentary History

By Philip S. Foner; Daniel Rosenberg | Go to book overview
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Part III: The Views of the Clergy

The appeals of clergymen for racial justice and fair treatment for Chinese and Japanese immigrants, for an end to their exclusion, form an important component of the movement for Asian rights in the United States. While ministers occasionally employed ethnic or racial stereotypes to make the point that Asians were desirable people to have in the United States, a sufficient body of humanitarian content suffuses the statements and petitions below to register their sentiments as essentially democratic. Several of the churchmen from whom relevant materials are selected became well known precisely for their support of justice for Asians in America. 1

Among the first was the Reverend William Speer -- founder of the Chinese Presbyterian Church in San Francisco in the 1850's and editor of the Chinese-English paper, The Oriental [Documents 1a and b]. Some twenty years later, Congregationalist pastor D.A.L. Stone came to the defense of the Chinese during the 1870's in much the same tones as Speer, echoing both the latter's support for basic rights and his paternalism [Document 2]. The contemporary activity and reputation of Otis Gibson [Document 3] places him at the forefront of those ministers urging fair treatment of the Chinese; likewise, he embraced certain of the prejudices common to other clerical supporters of that cause. The same contradictions run through L.T. Chamberlain's 1879 sermon [Document 4]. 2 The California Independent editorial [Document 5] calls the religious convictions of the persecutors of the Chinese into question. Missionary Esther Baldwin's condemnation of the Chinese Exclusion Act is one of the most articulate on record [Document 6]. The response of the Methodist Episcopal Church to anti-Chinese outbreaks in the 1880's [Document 7] suggests that the views of the more tolerant clergy were not expressed in isolation from the brutal facts of discrimination and violence sanctioned by governmental codification. After opposing the racist drive in Seattle in 1886, local Methodists were treated with contempt by the press [Document 8]. The statement of a Jersey City minister represents the clerical contribution to the campaign against the Geary Act [Document 9].

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