Race, Color, and Citizenship: Ozawa and Thind In the 1920s

When, by law, only “free white persons” and “persons of African descent” could be naturalized, the Supreme Court addresses where Asians fit in.


Special thanks to David Weinberg of JuryGroup for permission to use these images

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SCRIPT EXCERPT

JUSTICE B: Counselor, the question before us, of course, is not whether your client faithfully served this country or whether he is a good person or whether he stacked lumber in Oregon. Rather, the question, as you well know, is whether Mr. Thind is a “white person” within the meaning of the statute.
KING: Your Honor, Mr. Thind is a “white person,” for he is, unequivocally, Caucasian and therefore white.
JUSTICE C: Is he not “brown?”
KING: Respectfully, Your Honor, Mr. Thind was born a member of a high Hindu caste, a caste well known to be descendants of the Aryan race. Aryans, as your Honors are aware, are of the Caucasian — the “white” — race. Accordingly, the naturalization law permits Mr. Thind, a white person, to be a citizen, as held in Ozawa.
JUSTICE SUTHERLAND: Mr. King, I do have some familiarity with the Ozawa decision. Did I not write in Ozawa that the determination that the words “white person” means a Caucasian did not end the matter? Did this Court not conclude that there was not to be a sharp line of demarcation between those who are entitled to be naturalized and those who are not?
KING: Justice Sutherland, Mr. Thind falls well within the zone of those entitled to be naturalized. Various renowned scholars have proven to us that Hindus are Caucasians. Professor Blumenbach’s research and studies compared many important racial factors such as skull shape and complexion which demonstrate that Hindus are Caucasian, the highest type of white race.
NARRATOR 2: King argued not only that Thind was white, but he went to great lengths to argue that Thind was of pure blood, and that there was no possibility that he was a person of mixed blood. While Ozawa had argued that being “white” for these purposes should turn more on a person’s character and worthiness, Thind’s lawyer emphasized blood and race.
JUSTICE D: You cannot be saying that a man with brown skin and black hair is the same race as a blond Scandinavian with fair skin.

SCRIPT


VIDEOS

On Tuesday, February 28, Cadwalader’s New York office hosted a reenactment
of two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Ozawa and Thind

Scrnshot4OzawaCadvideo


PERFORMANCES BY AABANY

NAPABA Annual Convention, Atlanta, GA, November 18, 2011
Cadwalader, New York, NY, February 28, 2012 (SEE VIDEO, ABOVE)