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A Different Shade of Justice

New book chronicles Asian American civil rights movement

Different Shade of Justice

In A Different Shade of Justice, historian Stephanie Hinnershitz chronicles a little known but equally important component of the fight for civil rights in America. In the Jim Crow South, Asian immigrants, including Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese and Indian Americans, faced obstacles similar to those experienced by African Americans, such as school segregation, antimiscegenation laws, and discriminatory business practices. This institutional racism thwarted efforts to achieve economic stability and often led to violence against individuals and communities.

Hinnershitz, assistant professor of history at Cleveland State University, illustrates how Asian Americans organized carefully constructed legal and political battles to fight and in many cases defeat efforts to prevent them from sharing in the American dream. She also shines new light on the leaders of this civil rights movement, including Gong Lum and Fortunatio Annunciatio, whose fights against segregation and anti-mixed marriage laws were as important in the battle for equal protection as the work of their more famous counterparts in the African American and women’s rights movements.

“Asian Americans played an essential role in defeating legalized segregation and discrimination in the South but because their efforts were less centralized and not as public their contributions are not as well known or celebrated,” Hinnershitz says. “This book seeks to broaden understanding of the full history of the struggle for equal rights for all people in the South, and America as a whole”

Hinnershitz traveled throughout the South visiting libraries, archives and special collections in multiple communities and at numerous universities, collecting a treasure trove of legislative and legal records, oral histories, memoirs, and newspaper accounts, many of which had not been analyzed before. She used the information gathered to present comprehensive assessments of some of the key moments in Asian American and civil rights history. These included the fight for equal rights by Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the early twentieth century, efforts to end school segregation against Asian immigrants in the 1950’s and 60’s, as well as Indian hotel owners' battles against business discrimination in the 1980s and '90s.

A Different Shade of Justice is a marvelous accomplishment of shaping a mountain of archival work into a set of narratives that help depict Asian American struggles for civil rights in the South, stories that have, until now, been largely invisible in civil rights history,” notes Daryl Joji Maeda, associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America.

The book is published by University of North Carolina Press and is part of their Justice, Power and Politics series.