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Jan. 19, 1948: The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to a 1920 California law aimed at preventing land ownership by Asian immigrants.
The Alien Land Law prevented Asian immigrants from owning land in their own name. ACLU plaintiff and U.S. citizen Fred Oyama, then 16, sued after the state attempted to take eight acres his family farmed in present-day Chula Vista. Like other Japanese Americans, the Oyama family was forced into federal camps in 1942. In 1944, while the family was still interned, the state moved to seize the land.
Future Secretary of State Dean Acheson joined ACLU/SC counsel Abraham Wirin in arguing Oyama's case before the Supreme Court, which upheld his ownership rights on Jan. 19, 1948. "The State has discriminated against Fred Oyama," the court wrote. "The discrimination is based solely on his parents' country of origin." Justice Hugo Black forcefully added, "by this Alien Land Law California puts all Japanese aliens within its boundaries on the lowest possible economic level."
The Alien Land Law stayed in effect until 1952, when the California Supreme Court struck it down. It was repealed by voters in 1956.
Photo: Farmer Richard Kobayashi with cabbages at the Manzanar Relocation Center in 1943, photographed by Ansel Adams (National Archives)