How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South
Email this review


The story of a family of Chinese immigrants who influenced desegregation in the South.

While researching her own family history in the Mississippi Delta, Berard came across the untold story of how a Chinese immigrant family fought the state's school segregation laws. Using newspaper clippings, weather reports, interviews with descendants, census records, maps, photographs, and letters, the author re-creates the early 1900s in the Delta region, an area filled with prejudiced whites, recently freed blacks, and thousands of Chinese who had come to America in search of a better life. One of those families was the Lums, who lived in Rosedale, Mississippi, where they owned and ran a grocery store. The two daughters, Berda and Martha, attended the local school along with the white children of the area. But in 1924, due to pervasive racism, the girls were labeled as “colored” and barred from returning to school. Berard brings their story and those of the other players to life, giving readers a close look at the social, economic, and cultural environment of the Deep South in the early 20th century. Significant, memorable details include the fields of cotton being picked by hand, the black prison gangs being worked to death building levees, and the KKK murdering innocent black men. Berard gives the background histories of the lawyer, Earl Brewer, who presented the case before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Klansmen who influenced the situation, and the judges who tried the case and ultimately decided the girls were not permitted in the “whites only” school. In an engaging bit of social history, Berard rescues a forgotten part of Southern history and brings it to light, offering readers a rare glimpse into Chinese immigrant life and the way segregation affected so many for decades.

Flush with telling details and backed by meticulous research, a piece of near-forgotten Chinese-American history is retold.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8070-3353-1
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016


NonfictionTHE SNAKEHEAD by Patrick Radden Keefe
by Patrick Radden Keefe
NonfictionDEEP SOUTH by Paul Theroux
by Paul Theroux
NonfictionTHE CHINESE AMERICANS by Milton Meltzer
by Milton Meltzer