The Library of Virginia is closed to the public, but we can still observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month virtually! Let’s explore the Library’s holdings through a new research guide and bibliography, blog posts, and even a snapshot of an exhibit to replace (temporarily) a display that we had planned for the Library’s Local History and Genealogy Room.

Check back each Friday this month to see the next entry in this series or access them all here.

During the near century of Jim Crow in Virginia, between 1877 and the mid-1960s, authorities enforced racial segregation throughout the state. In 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Racial Integrity Act, after significant persuasion from state registrar of vital statistics Dr. Walter Plecker. It required all Virginia birth certificates and marriage certificates to list the person’s race as either “white” or “colored,” and classified all nonwhites, including American Indians, as “colored.” Much like American Indians in Virginia, Asians and Asian Americans were individuals who did not fit easily into this legal and cultural system predicated on a binary distinction. Below are just a few examples of how this system of segregation affected the lives of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans in the commonwealth.

Despite the “separate but equal” accommodations in Virginia as upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans had access to traditionally “white” higher academic institutions which explicitly barred access to Black Americans. For example, Major Seki of the Japanese army pursued a special course of study at VMI in 1924. Chinese student Cato Lee lived on campus at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg and was part of the track and tennis teams.1 Born in Scotland to a Japanese father, Arthur Matsu was recruited to play football at the College of William and Mary in 1917, turning down an offer from Princeton. He was quarterback and captain of the football team, a member of the Seven Society and two honors fraternities, and additionally participated in basketball, baseball, and track.2 Other Asian and Asian American students attended Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, the University of Virginia, the University of Richmond, Hampden-Sydney College, and Union Theological Seminary, all before the 1930s.3 University educators and businessmen visited the commonwealth often, while Japanese golf teams and the Japanese Ambassador and his family frequented the Homestead, a high-end luxury resort in Hot Springs—ironically, Japanese diplomats would be held there for weeks in the wake of Pearl Harbor.4

Japanese immigrants in Virginia married both Black and white women, despite the 1924 statute that specifically limited the rights of anyone who was not categorized as “white” in Virginia, including “prohibition against whites marrying anyone save another white,” and the definition of a white person as one “who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.” In the 1930 Census, Japanese immigrants George Yo Miguth and Charlie Nakano (from Norfolk and Portsmouth respectively) married women listed as “negro.”5 George’s son, also named George Yo Miguth, seemed to take the mother’s racial status—in this case, therefore, “negro.” This census information points to how the children may have taken their mother’s race status, and also may highlight that Black Japanese Americans, despite one parent’s “honorary white” status, were not granted the same, and that the color of someone’s skin in Virginia still largely determined their status in the commonwealth.

The 1940 Census reported at least 30 residents of Virginia who had been born in Japan. Most were males between 30-60 years old, and many resided in Newport News and Norfolk. There were also those from Northern Virginia, Goochland, Richmond, and Portsmouth. Much like earlier censuses, their written race seemed to cause confusion. While some of them were written down as “Japanese,” “JP,” or even “Jap,” (Note: the latter is an offensive ethnic slur) there were still a few cases where they were written as “W,” for white. Although a D.C. resident, Hitomi Yamasaki’s entry in the Census illustrates the confusion census takers may have had when faced with Japanese residents—his race was marked “W” before being scratched out with “JP” instead.6

Figure B. Hitomi Yamasaki, United States Census, 1940

Database with images, FamilySearch, Virginia > Alexandria City > Alexandria City, Alexandria, Ward 4 > image 20 of 24; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.

The census also shows that there may have been a handful of residents who had lived in Virginia well before 1940. For example, Arthur Todda and his (white) wife Mary were listed as residents of Tanner Creek, Norfolk, in 1910. The 1930 census reports an Arthur Tade in Norfolk, twenty years older than Arthur from 1910 and married to his wife, Mary—it is hard to imagine he is not the same person. He appears again in the 1940 census as Arthur Tada, age 57, still residing in Norfolk. By 1940, his occupation was listed as a waiter at a restaurant, showing he was employed and working to support his children, Alma and Arthur—his son reportedly was an artist with his own studio, while his daughter was a bookkeeper.7 Referred to as Wataru Tada in a 1941 Virginian-Pilot article, Arthur Todda was reported to operate a restaurant on Church Street in Norfolk and had lived in Norfolk since 1908.8

This seems to also be the case with Tenny Maheta, who can be found in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses under slightly different names, likely because the census taker spelled them wrong or misheard him—each census entry lists his (white) wife Annie, as well as his residence in Norfolk, and his age seems to appropriately change with the census. A resident of Deep Creek, Norfolk, in 1920, he lived with his wife and their twelve-year old son Joseph (who was listed as “white”). Like Hitomi Yamasaki’s entry, the 1920 census has a scribbled out “W” under Tenny Maheta’s race, leaving an illegible mark. In 1930, he seems to be listed as Thomas Wakita, a restaurant cook in Norfolk, now listed as “Jp” for race. By 1940, he was listed as a restaurant proprietor, implying that this man had built himself a life in Norfolk, remaining there throughout the years with his family.9 A number of Virginia residents like Arthur and Tenny were questioned and taken to Japanese American incarceration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Regardless of how others classified Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during their time in Virginia, it was often a question for the people themselves to decide. Hideo Hoshide, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), the segregated fighting unit in World War II of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei in Japanese), recalled his arrival in D.C., where he knew the buses were segregated but was unsure where to sit. He decided that “in between…would be a safe place,” and had no problem on that particular bus ride. However, he had to change buses in Alexandria and was faced again with the issue of where to sit: “It was

Figure C. Still of Hideo Hoshide

Interview II Segment 4, Interviewed by Tom Ikeda, February 1 & 2, 2006, Densho Digital Archives, Densho Visual History Collection (A-M), Densho ID Number: denshovh-hhideo-02-0004.

kind of a big question that I didn’t know where to go, but there was a lady sitting in the front side, and she heard me talking to the driver.”10 He went on to say that the white woman who had overheard him invited him to sit next to her. He added that he later mentioned the incident to workers in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and they told him “You know, when you’re over here, there’s only two classifications. You’re either a white or black. There’s nothing in between.” He said that he was “yellow race.” Their response to him was “You’re a white.” Hoshide’s interaction highlights that, just as the census takers may not have been sure which race to categorize the Japanese as, Hoshide himself was unsure: “I didn’t know how I should act, whether I’m a Black or a white.”

-Emma Ito, Education & Programs Specialist

Footnotes

[1] “Japanese Officer Visits Camp Meade”, The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), June 27, 1924; Wallenstein, Peter. “Desegregation in Higher Education in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

[2] Arthur Matsu was born in Scotland and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Paul Perman, “Jim and Howard, Take off Your Hats to This Japanese Boy, He’s Got You Both Beat,” Cumberland Evening Times (Cumberland, MD), June 30, 1917, accessed February 8, 2017, https://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/maryland/cumberland/cumberland-evening-times/1917/06-30/page-22?tag=Arthur+Matsu&rtserp=tags/?pf=arthur&pl=matsu&psb=relavance;  College of William and Mary, Colonial Echo, 1928 (Vol. 30), (Williamsburg, VA: Graduating Class of 1928), The W&M Digital Archive, accessed April 5, 2017, http://hdl.handle.net/10288/2166, pgs. 184, 188, 199, 212, 214, 215, and 273;  “Jap Captain,” The Mt. Pleasant Daily News (Mt. Pleasant, IA), January 22, 1972, accessed February 8, 2017, https://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/iowa/mount-pleasant/mount-pleasant-daily-news/1927/01-22/page-3?tag=Arthur+Matsu&rtserp=tags/?pf=arthur&pl=matsu&psb=relavance.

[3] Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), August, 25, 1906;  Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), February 16, 1921;  University of Virginia, University of Virginia Catalogue, (Charlottesville: VA: University of Virginia, 1903), 38;  Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), November 27, 1904;   “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VRBY-FPK: accessed 9 February 2017), Hasegawa Shintaro, Hampden Magisterial District, Prince Edward, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 74-10, sheet 2A, line 2, family , Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627.  Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 4285.

[4] “Saito Children to Participate in Water Fete,” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), August 15, 1937. “Jap Envoy, ‘Peace’ Emissary Removed to Virginia Resort,” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), December 30, 1941; “Two ‘Specials’ Bring Japs To Hot Springs,” The Highland Recorder (Monterey, VA), January 9, 1942;  “The Homestead: A Great Hotel Entertains Jap Diplomats As Patriotic Duty,” Life (New York City, NY), February 16,1942.

[5] See “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/CH59-1ZM : accessed 9 February 2017), George Yo Miguth, Norfolk, Norfolk (Independent City), Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 29, sheet 1B, line 74, family 14, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2470; FHL microfilm 2,342,204. and “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/CC6P-LW2 : accessed 9 February 2017), Charlie Nakano, Portsmouth, Portsmouth (Independent City), Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 10, sheet 3A, line 25, family 65, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2473; FHL microfilm 2,342,207.

[6] “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89MR-S95M?cc=2000219&wc=QZXG-8PZ%3A794217401%2C800522201%2C800472601%2C953108801: accessed 26 February 2017), Virginia > Alexandria City > Alexandria City, Alexandria, Ward 4 > image 20 of 24; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.

[7] See Appendix. “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VTMS-N5H : accessed 10 April 2017), Arthur Tada, Area C, Norfolk, Norfolk City Voting Precinct 18, Norfolk City, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) -60, sheet 6B, line 80, family 176, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 4312.

[8]“Norfolk’s Male Japanese Held By City Police,” Virginian Pilot (Norfolk, VA), December 8, 1941.

[9] Emma T. Ito, “The Japanese Experience in Virginia, 1900s-1950s: Jim Crow to Internment,” (Master’s Thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2017), https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/etd/4832/. See Tenny Maheta’s Census information in Appendix.

[10] Hideo Hoshide Interview II Segment 4, Interviewed by Tom Ikeda, February 1 & 2, 2006, Densho Digital Archives, Densho Visual History Collection (A-M), Densho ID Number: denshovh-hhideo-02-0004.

Header Image Citation

Kai Kaneda is pictured here with three other students as bound for mission field. Paintings, Photographs, Slides, and Prints Collection, William Smith Morton Library Archives and Special Collections, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.

Emma Ito

Emma Ito

Education & Programs Specialist

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