My book, The Bricks before Brown: The Chinese American, Native American, and Mexican Americans’ Struggle for Educational Equality, was published in 2022. I conducted a comparative historical case study of Chinese-American, Native-American, and Mexican-American school desegregation cases that were filed before Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The 1954 case striking down the caste system in education that relegated Blacks to inferior schools is often held up as the sine qua non of successful Civil Rights case law (Kluger 1975, 2004; Bell 2004). Yet, Brown was built upon a careful scaffolding of earlier school desegregation cases brought to court by Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos (Kuo 1998; Perea 2004; Der 2008; Blalock-Moore 2012). Scholarly research has largely overlooked, forgotten, or excluded such contributions. Those few works that do exist focus on single cases and do not investigate similarities and differences between cases (Wollenberg 1974). My research fills this gap, producing a systematic, comparative analysis of the ways that race – and gender – were deployed and negotiated in school desegregation cases preceding Brown. In my analysis, I conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses of the case law emerging from the West, moving beyond the Black/White binary of race, and considering the impact of gender and class. The long-term goal of this research project is to develop an interdisciplinary, racially inclusive, and intersectional analysis of the school desegregation movement in the United States.
These are stories that need to be told and told together. While I would never put an equal sign in between the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, I would place the simile sign in between. Those similarities tell a more complete story of race, class, and gender in America.
The cases included in my research are the following:
Tape v. Hurley (1885), a case involving Chinese-American plaintiffs in San Francisco.
Piper v. Big Pine (1924), a case involving Native-American plaintiffs in Big Pine, CA.
Mendez v. Westminster (1947), a case involving Mexican-American plaintiffs in Los Angeles.
Listed below are various links about the various cases. My greatest privilege has been getting to know these amazing families. One of my first observations is that the lead plaintiffs in each case were little girls even though younger boys were available. I call them sympathetic symbols of this social movement that was not only raced but clearly classed and gendered.