Gong Lum v. Rice, 1927

Nicole Hannah Jones was on an NBC program, and a clip from it went viral:


On National Day of Racial Healing: An MSNBC Town Hall, “The 1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses the way we learn about racial history and how it benefits the status-quo.

♬ original sound – MSNBC

Some people wondered what she was talking about. The Mississippi case is the second well known Chinese school integration case, Gong Lum v. Rice.

From Britannica:

Gong Lum v. Rice, case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on November 21, 1927, ruled (9–0) that a Mississippi school board had not violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause when it classified a student of Chinese descent[, named Martha Lum,] as “colored” and barred her from attending a white high school.

  1. State trial judged for Lum, and ordered to send Martha to the white school.
  2. State Supreme reversed the decision, so Lum was no longer allowed at the white school. Defined Chinese as “Mongolian”.
  3. SCOTUS upheld the decision, and referred to two cases, Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education (1899), which allowed for segregated high schools, and stated “states rights” for schools, and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which established “separate but equal”. They said Martha Lum was separate, but given equal protection under the law.

Gong Lum argued for Chinese to get this one form of white privilege, and the demand was denied.

As it went up through the courts, and got to the SCOTUS it clearly became a question of the validity of Plessy.

The SCOTUS affirmed Plessy. Additionally, they affirmed Cumming, which established segregated high schools.

(I suspect that, had Gong Lum prevailed, it would have opened the door to overturning Plessy, and also open the door to desegregating schools entirely.)

A similar case, a few decades before, Tape v. Hurley (1885), established that Chinese American children could attend public school, so California established segregated Chinese schools. Tape tried to be integrated into white schools, but that attempt was denied.

Asians would continue to go to segregated schools in many areas, but not all, until Brown v. Board (1954), ruled that separate was not equal.


The 14th Amendment to the Constitution: . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. . . .