Chinese and School Segregation in Mississippi Before 1950

      Separate schools existed for blacks and whites in the Deep South for many decades, but where did Chinese children, and others of Asian descent, attend school? 
      In Mississippi, the State Constitution of 1890 specified that white schools were for caucasians only, a view that the U. S. Supreme Court in 1927 upheld in Gong Lum v. Rice when a Chinese grocer in Rosedale failed to get his two daughters admitted to white schools in 1924.  Consequently, until the late 1940s Chinese in the Delta had to form their own schools with the help of the Baptist church to educate their children although enforcement of school segregation policy against Chinese varied widely in different communities. In some towns, it was rigidly enforced while it was ignored in other towns.
    For example, on Feb. 21, 1941 the School Board in Clarksdale denied a petition supported by the Clarksdale Baptist Church pastor and 88 citizens for admission of the 7-yr old daughter, May (Magen) of Henry and Edith Jue to a white school for the 1941-2 school year.  In the minutes of the meeting, Jue was referred to as "Chinaman." Furthermore, his name was misspelled as "Jeel" and the name of the daughter, May, was not specified.

        However, on September 3, 1941 the School Board, despite the opposition of 30 petitioners, granted "conditional admission" to a white school for May on the grounds that the Chinese school that she had been attending in nearby Lula had been discontinued. However, the decision was clearly described as "subject to revocation at any time." Mr. Jue's name was still misspelled in the minutes, but this time as "Jeu" instead of "Jeel."

In 1941, Henry and Edith Jew (Jue), accompanied May (Magen) on the first day of class to the white school, Oakhurst Elementary School, Clarksdale, MS.

     In 1950, fully a decade later, it was still necessary for School Board approval before May's cousins, Chat and Ben Sue, could attend a white school in Clarksdale for the 1950-51 school year.

       It must be noted that these inroads were made before the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court ruling against school segregation in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.

       Times do change, and for the Chinese in the Delta, their status improved substantially since 1941 as they made valuable contributions to their communities over the years. In 2012, the Clarksdale newspaper gave recognition of the breaking of the racial barriers at school by the Jue family, paving the way for other Chinese children in the following years.

Source of documents: Betty Jue Dickard

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