Asian Americans have been in Berkeley, California for over a century, and make up over 20% of the city.

But our history has been marked by a long history of anti-Asian housing discrimination, some of it predating more rigid policies of anti-Black redlining.

This website shares some moments of anti-Asian housing discrimination before the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Many incidents feel strangely modern, reflecting current battles around zoning to keep out newcomers.

  • 1939: Realty Board wants racial covenants, but residents fear Orientals and colored people could still move in between Grove & Sacramento, Dwight & University. Council takes action in support of racial covenants.
    10/17/1939: "4. President Gaines presented a letter from Mrs Mary M. Utter appealing for assistance in regard to certain realty dealers trying to place Orientals and colored people in the section bounded by Grove and Sacramento Streets, Dwight Way and University Avenue. Councilman French stated that he thought it should be clearly understood from a legal point of view the Council cannot take any action which would hold in the courts on a matter of this kind; that the only thing for the people to do is to enter into a covenant plan which must be a one hundred percent agreement to be effective and that they can only express their sentiments in this matter but are not able to take any effective action. He moved the adoption of resolution instructing the City Attorney to write Mrs. Utter giving her a legal opinion on this matter. The motion was seconded by Councilmen Berg and the resolution was unanimously adopted. Councilman Mork stated that he had read in one of the magazines where one of the southern cities had the some problem and it had solved the question by setting aside a certain section of the City for the colored people and a certain section for the white people, and that the colored people did not go into the white section of the City and vice versa. He further stated that this is an American problem and should have the proper treatment. Mrs. W. N. Lindbled addressed the Council stating that a number of years ago the Realty Board came into their neighborhood and asked them to sign these covenants in order to protect their properties from the influx of Orientals and colored people and the property owners agreed not to sell or rent their properties to any but the Caucasian race and that she had signed and paid a $5 fee, and this covenant was recorded in the County Recorder's Office and at that time the Realty Board stated it would defend these covenants in the courts and that they had a fund set up for this purpose. She further stated that since then certain realty firms in the City were bringing Orientals and colored people into the district showing fault of the realtor and not the Oriental or colored people. Mrs. Mary E. O'Connell, 1746 Virginia Street, stated that property in her neighborhood at the present time is for sale and certain realtors are bringing Orientals and colored people to see it. Councilman Mork stated that he felt the Realty Board should have the interest of the people at heart and they should get together and work this matter out with them as the Council is entirely helpless. G.P. Warren stated that he felt the influence of the Council over the Realty Board would help the people quite a lot."
  • 1939: Ban Asiatics and colored people, like Albany
    October 10, 1939 council minutes: Resident asks council to pass law barring property sales to Asiatics and colored people, like Albany is attempting "10. Mrs. Mary Scenlon addressed the Council urging the Council to pass some law making it impossible for Asiatics and colored people to buy property in Berkeley as she understands the City of Albany is taking such action and that she knows of two places near the Hall of Justice bullding which have been sold to Orientals and another place on University Avenue west of Grove Street. She stated she was asking not for herself alone but in the interest of the city as a whole. President Gaines thanked Mrs. Scanlon for her remarks."
  • 1938: Hundreds of neighbors try to keep out Hindu temple
    Two sets of city council minute transcripts from 1938 tell the story: 6/20/1938 special meeting, and 11/22/1938. Click the images to download the complete PDFs.
  • 1936: Concerned neighbors spread rumors that property near Amador & Shattuck has been sold to Japanese
    12/15/1936 city council minutes: "Mrs. W.H. Wilkie, 1130 Shattuck Avenue, appeared before the Council and asked if something could not be done in the matter of trimming the trees on Amador Avenue near Shattuck Avenue; that the controversy has affected one property owner in such a way that he states he will sell his property to negroes; she stated that it has been reported that property in the neighborhood had been sold to Japanese and that they were contemplating building on the property. She asked what could be done to save the situation. City Manager Thompson stated that he was having a house to house canvass made of the neighborhood and felt that by next Tuesday he would be prepared to give a report on it."
  • 1928: Association tries to prevent non-White students from living near campus, but Asian and Black students and their allies push back
    Around December 1928, the Central Berkeley Improvement Association started pushing for a covenant plan to have non-Caucasian students be barred from living in private dwellings around UC Berkeley because they lower property values. There was immediate pushback from students of color and allies: • Students of 7 races and nationalities teamed up to write a joint letter of protest. They included Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Filipino, and Black students. The letter was shared publicly, and with president of the University, student clubs, and the press. • There was a mass meeting of Caucasian and non-Caucasian students that issued a joint letter of protest. • Robert Sproul, President of the University, put out a statement in defense of the students. • A group of six White students wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Californian, sarcastically decrying the idea. An official editorial on the same page decried the idea with racist logic, explaining that while foreigners were unwelcome, international students were far better than the average foreigner. • On December 9, Nichibei [Japanese American News] devoted a significant chunk of the front page to coverage of the incident, and subsequent pushback: Sources: "Association's Suggestion on Housing Non-Caucasians is Ill-Conceived". The Daily Californian. 80 (74). December 3, 1928. – via Berkeley Library Digital Collections. "Group Should Improve Itself". The Daily Californian. 80 (74). December 3, 1928. – via Berkeley Library Digital Collections. "Student Editor Raps Move to Oust Foreign Dwellers". Oakland Tribune: 6B. December 5, 1928. – via "Alien Students Draft Protest". Oakland Tribune: 31. December 7, 1928. – via "Oriental Students at U.C. in Mass Meeting Protest Against Exclusion Move by Berkeley Property Owners". Nichibei [Japanese American News]: 8 [front page]. 9 December 1928. – via California Digital Newspaper Collection. "U.C. Oriental Students Seek Campbell's Aid in Banning Exclusion Move". Nichibei [Japanese American News]: 8 [front page]. 11 December 1928. – via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  • 1927-1930: Neighbors protest Asian and Black students living at International House
    800 community members assembled to protest racial integration at International House. Fraternity members living on Piedmont Avenue argued they should not have to live with "niggers and chinks." Sources: "Berkeley : a city in history" by Charles Wollenberg (2008), page 103 "Teaching America to the World and the World to America" edited by Lisa Jarvinen and R. Garlitz (2002) "Foreign Students and the Berkeley International House, 1928-1961 : oral history transcript" "International House Berkeley: An Extraordinary History" (2022), page 2
  • 1923: Neighbors protest home for Chinese orphans
    August 14, 1923 City Council minutes: 13. At 9:15 a.m., the Council took up consideration of the proposed reclassification of property at the southeast corner of Ashby avenue and Ninth street , from Class VII to Class III under Ordinance No, 666-N.S. to permit the use of the proper ty as a home for Chinese orphan boys D. po" Monk, residing at San Pablo Pablo avenue avenue and Murray street protested against the use of this property for the pur- pose contemplated contending that it will mean the introduc- tion of orientals into the neighborhood, He further stated that he had been informed that this will be a home for delin- quent, which would be another objectionable feature. C H. • Tingley on behalf of the Baptist Union informed the Council that these Chinese boys are for the most part . native born: that some of them are wards of the court but not delinquents; that this location was approved by the State Board of Charities and that because it is in an obnoxious factöry zone, he felt the objections expressed were not well founded, Councilman Caldecott opposed the reclassification stating that he believed that the objections of the property owners already located there should be given first consideration, After further discussion, and on motion of Councilman May. a Bill was passed to print reclassifying the property, Councilman Caldecott voting
  • 1923: Neighbors launch petition to keep Chinese family out of McKinley Avenue
    A Berkeleyside story quotes Berkeley artist Aimee Baldwin about her Chinese grandparents' experience buying a home on McKinley Avenue in 1923: "For Baldwin, who is multiracial, sharing this history is personal. Her great grandparents moved from San Francisco to Berkeley in 1923, hoping their sons would attend the University of California, and experienced housing discrimination firsthand. 'When my family was in the process of buying the house on McKinley Ave, and becoming the first Chinese on that block, white neighbors began a petition to prohibit us from moving into the neighborhood,” Baldwin wrote in the exhibit’s text. “However, a white woman who lived on that block had spent time living in China with her missionary family, and spoke up on behalf of my family, saying that Chinese people should be allowed to move in.'" Source:
  • 1922: Neighbor complains that landlord rents to Japanese tenants on Berkeley Way
    6/6/1922 City Council minutes: "A protest signed by L. C. Martin and other property owners in the vicinity against the reclassification was read. Mrs. L. C. Martin personally protested against the reclassification on the ground that an oil service station will be & detriment to adjoining property. Mrs. Martin further objected to the condition and lack of care given the houses on Berkeley way belonging to Mr. Stevens, and to his renting these houses to Japanese."
  • 1922: 53 Residents protest property sale to Japanese. Council asks staff to try to block the sale.
    1/10/1922 City Council minutes: "Mrs. M. Betts, of 1937 Haste street, appeared before the Council and presented a petition signed by some 53 residents and property owners asking the Council to restrain Miss E. A. Stanford, a real-estate agent, from selling property at 1932 Haste street to Japanese. Mrs. Botte stated that Miss Stanford had advertised the property for sale in a Japanese newspaper in San Francisco. President Bartlett informed Mrs. Betts that the Council is powerless to do anything in the matter, and suggested that she go to the Agent or the Japanese who is about to purchase the property, and try and persuade them to abandon the sale. Mr. Carol Aronovici, Consultant to the City Planning commission, suggested that a representative be sent to the next meeting of the Real Estate Association to discuss such matters with them. After further discussion the matter was referred to the City Attorney, and a resolution was adopted directing the City Planning Consultant to consult with the Japanese and Miss Stanford to see if the sale could not be stopped and report back to the council."
  • 1920: Protesting a landlord renting to Japanese tenants
    8/27/1920 city council minutes 1920: Neighbors protest landlord renting to Japanese tenants at 1401 Spruce "From Mrs. Vera White Henning, Florence White, Mrs. Catherine E. Dyer and Mrs. C. A. Grannel protesting against the action of the owner of the property at 1401 Spruce street in renting the premises to Japanese tenants. The Clerk was directed to reply that this matter will be taken up by the City Attorney."
  • 1920: Property owners protest home sale to Orientals, and council encourages neighbors to "arouse public sentiment"
    10/29/1920 City Council minutes: "From H. H. White and other residents and property owners in the vicinity of Camelia street and Stannage avenue protesting against the sale of property in their neighborhood to Orientals, President Bartlett informed the protestants who were present, that the Council was without jurisdiction to act and that the only thing that can be done is for the property owners to arouse public sentiment in the hope of stopping such sale."
  • 1919: Council blocks Japanese housing at 2539 Fulton
    11/12/1919 City Council minutes: "Attorney W S. Andrews informed the Council that the property at 2539 Fulton street, had been purchased by a Japanese (by name of B. Takaki), who is now building an addition to the structure located there to be used as an apartment house for Japanese and that the property owners in the neighborhood felt that it would be a great detriment to their properties, and were anxious to have the district created. Attorney Andrews urged the Council to take early action on the petition, and also, if possible to revoke the building permit to prevent further work on the building. The petition was, by by resolution, ordered referred to the City Planning Commission. After investigation by the Council of the building permit granted B. Takaki for the construction of the building referred to, said permit was by unanimous vote, revoked."
  • 1918-ish: Kala and Vaishno Das Bagai are forced out of their Berkeley home
    Kala Bagai (1892-1983) was one of the first South Asian women on the West Coast, and an early immigrant activist and community-builder. Read more about her time in Berkeley at and listen to her oral history at Kala Bagai was born in Amritsar in colonized India, immigrated to the Bay Area from Peshawar in modern day Pakistan. She survived anti-immigrant attacks in Berkeley, and then went on to build, in Southern California, one of the earliest South Asian communities in the United States. Her story is an opportunity to share with our children a powerful example of resilience and community in the face of oppression. Kala Bagai and her husband immigrated to the U.S. from present-day Pakistan in 1915. The Bagais built a small business in the Bay Area and bought a home in Berkeley. When they arrived at the home with their children and their belongings, their neighbors physically barred them from moving in. She survived local racism only to have an anti-immigrant court ruling stripped all South Asians of their citizenship. Her husband, now a stateless person, killed himself out of despair. But Kala Bagai persisted in the face of oppression, raising children, remarrying, and going on to become a critical California immigrant leader. Nicknamed “Mother India,” she worked tirelessly to build bridges through arts and community until her death in 1983. The city of Berkeley named a street after her, Kala Bagai Way, in 2021.
  • 1914: School board opposes admitting new Indian students to Berkeley High
    From Berkeley Daily Gazette, Aug 5, 1914, page 1 "SCHOOL BOARD IN QUANDARY OVER ADMITTING HINDUS Requests from two Hindu lads for permission to enter the high school stirred up a lively discussion at the meeting of the board of education last evening. Superintendent James and Principal Biedenbach pointed out tho crowded conditions of the school and the financial stress, which has made It necessary to refuse similar requests. To the query of J. A. Wilson as to what claim the Hindu lads had on the Berkeley schools, President Stern re- plied, "The claim of human beings; they are men. I do not think that this board should stand for any expression of race prejudice of discrimination. We should educate every one who comes to us for an education it we can. I am not asking that we take them, if we have not room, but they should not be barred because they are Hindus." Wilson explained that he was not questioning their moral claim, but their calm to demand entrance, when the crowded conditions made it necessary to refuse entrance to non-resident Americans. "I am not in favor of taking outside children, when we cannot accommodate our own," was the statement of Dr. Woolsey. "I believe that we should discriminate." sald Superintendent James. "Our own children should come first." Uneducated Should Be Barred. Principal Biedenbach explained that one foreign pupil caused as much work for the teachers as five or six Americans and thought the foreigners should not be allowed to enter the school until they could write and speak English fluently. The Hayward Union high school or the Oakland high school were suggested to the Hindus as schools where the congested conditions of the local school do not exist. Final action will be token on the matter at the adjourned meeting next Monday."
  • 1911: Neighbors protest Indian neighbors, McGee and Cedar
    Berkeley Daily Gazette, September 26, 1911 Page 1 "The possibility of having Hindoos invade their attractive neighborhood has aroused the residents in the vicinity of McGee and Cedar streets and an indignation meeting was held this morning shortly after two Hindoos were seen stepping out of a lot at the northwest corner, preparatory, evidently to building. A large number of men and women gathered in the street upon observing the actions of the Hindoos and strongly protested against allowing the orientals to establish their home there. Upon telephoning the mayor and laying their complaint betore him, they were told that nothing official could be done in the matter. Prominent real estate dealers this afternoon expressed their disapproval of allowing the Hindus to build in that vicinity and will will take steps to prevent the action. A sign on the property bears the name of D. L. Jungck, 1942 Shattuck avenue as the agent. When interviewed this morning Jungck stated he knew nothing definite of the matter, but believed that one of the men in his office had some sort of an arrangement with "a Hindoo connected with the university." The property is owned by a man named Atto, said to be a resident of this city."
  • 1909: Neighbors up at arms about George Shima buying a home at College & Parker
    From "The Independent" by William Livingston · 1913, "How California Treats the Japanese" by Kiyoshi Kawakami
  • 1908: Neighbors are angered by a Japanese man renting a home at Walnut & Delaware
    Berkeley Daily Gazette, September 25, 1908 Pages 1 and 8, "Residents are Aroused" RESIDENTS ARE AROUSED Those residing in the beautiful resi dence section of town at Walnut and Delaware are thoroughly aroused at the action of Frank E. Armstrong in renting his house to Japanese. Armstrong's statement regarding his neighbors: "Let them rise up and pro-test. I don't give a d- what they do," has filled his former friends with righteous indignation. Armstrong' statement that the Japanese is wealthy is not credited. That J. L. Linscott, who is a prop erty owner in this district and resides at 1908 Shattuck, is highly displeased with the prospects of Japanese moving into the neighborhood is evinced by the following: "I certainly don't approve of having Japanese move into the neighbor-hood. I am surprised at Mr. Armstrong renting his house to them. I know I would not rent'one of my houses to a Jap. I would like to see Armstrong. If he is not too unreasonable I would like to try and find a buyer for him to buy him out." C. A. Colmore, who resides at 1741 Walnut street, does not approve. He had the following to say: "I certainly cannot understand Armstrong's action in renting to Japanese. I think it shows a lack of consideration for his neighbors, and a lack of civie pride. Armstrong built my house for me some time ago, and he also built a couple of houses for my brother-in-law, He built the house that Mr. Orr lives in, and Mr. Orr bought it of him. I certainly do not approve of having Jap-lanese move into the neighhorhood, as it sets a precedence and later on we are liable to have a Japanese quarters in that district. I know that it they do come in there, I will simply move my house off and find a new location for it where I won't be molested, and then sell the lot for what ever I can get for it." Mrs. John Scunck, who is a large property owner and resides at 1743 Walnut street was grieved when she learned that Armstrong had rented to Japanese. She said: "I think Mr. Arm strong could have rented to white peo ple. He built my house for me, and I will say that I do not approve of hav. ing Japanese for neighbors. We have a house down on Dwight way which we were offered $60 rent for by some Japanese, but in justice to the neighbors, we refused to let them have the place, and rented to a white family for just half what the Japanese offered us, $30." S. A. Hulin, another large property owner said: "I am friendly to Armstrong and hence the more pained and surprised at his action. Armstrong's house would not tent for over $50 a month, but the Japs I see he says are to pay him $75. I hope Armstrong will reconsider his action." "I am very sorry to hear that Japanese are geing to move in across the street," said Mrs. H. C. Baldwin,'"and I know one thing, if they become objectionable we will simply move away. Henry Lederer, who resides at 2112 Delaware street, just across from where the Japanese will live if they move into Armstrong's house, said: "I do not approve of the Japs coming into the neighborhood- of course not. If they are anything like those who live down on Berkeley way, I will move." "Japanese are an undesirable class let citizens," said Mrs. Fletcher, who lives at 1803 Shattuck street in 'one of Hulin's houses. "We intend to move if the Japs come in." The Armstrong barn situated on the back of his lot has long been the source of annoyance to his neighbors and many complaints have been lodged with the police, fire and sanitary de partments. John W. Orr, whose hand some residence and well kept grounds at the corner of Walnut and Delaware, are a pleasing sight to all visitors, has been the chief complainant and be. tween him and Armstrong there is bitter feeling. Orr's place Is one of the best kept in Berkeley while Armstrong's next door is not so attractive.
  • 1907: Neighbors try to force out Chinese and White couple
    The Berkeley Gazette, Berkeley, California, Wednesday, June 19, 1907, pages 1 and 6, "Celestial's Wife Wrathy" Juse because her American neigh-hors do not like the idea of having a Celestial in their midst, Mrs. Don Louis of 2328 Fulton street, wife of a wealthy, high caste Chinaman, dees not propose to retire to the back. ground and give up her new home, but on the contrary will fight to a finich and if necessary will carry her troubles into the courts. Claiming to come from good old Puritan stock, a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, and a distant relative of Benjamin Franklin, Mrs. Louis is proud of her Oriental husband and she demonstrates her American spirit of independence when she says that she does not care what other persons think as long as she is satisfied. Neighbors of Don Luis and his wife have just discovered that the husband is a Chinaman and they are wroth to think that a Celestial should have the temerity to come into their midst It doesn't appear to be a case where money talks as Don Luis has a great sufficiency of the necessary coin, and his little American wife paid a year's rent in advance, when she leased the Fulton street house. Don Lous is now on his way to China to attend to certain Oriental interests and as he will not return until August it is up to his wife to fight the battle for their rights, "If the people in this vicinity don't like my husband or his nationality they can move for I shall not," said Mrs. Louis, this morning. "We certainly are respectable, we ask nothing of them, and as long as we conduct ourselves as respectable, law-abiding citizens they might leave us alone. I don't ask them to cultivate my acquaintance and I certainly shall not seek to know them. "I consider that I am the equal of most of them and from a standpoint of good blood better than certain ones, I can boast of being of Puritan stock and a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, in addition to being related in a distant way to Benjamin Franklin. There was nothing disgraceful in my marriage to Don Luis. There was no elopement and my parents sanctioned my marriage. "Certain persons have taken it upon themselves to criticise me because I married an Oriental, but I consider that is purely my own business and their actions shall not drive me from the home I have just entered. If necessary I will put the case in the hands of a lawyer. "All of the citizens of Berkeley are not as snobbish as the persons I men-ton. One family living near Channing way and Ellsworth street wish me to lease their home and when they heard of my trouble this morning came to me and asked me again to take the house. But I will not admit that anyone can drive me out of my present domicile and will fight for my rights to the last." Mrs. Louis formerly was Miss Dorothy Trescott and she married her husband in San Francisco May 28, 1906. She had been his private tutor in English and, friendship ripening into love, they were married. The two went to Stanford, where the husband entered the university and the wife continued to coach him in his English, and it was not until a week ago that they came here and leased the house on Fulton street. The husband sailed for the Orient almost immediately and the wife will await his return here.
  • 1907: Neighbors demand that four households of "coolies and Hindoos" be ejected from near 6th & Grayson and further west, with a "race conflict" looming
    San Francisco Chronicle, December 5, 1907, page 13, "Fear Outbreak Against Hindoos" "FEAR OUTBREAK AGAINST HINDOOS Berkeley Police Keep a Close Watch to Prevent Race Conflict. BERKELEY, December 4. Clone watch Is being kept by the police to prevent the outbreak of disturbance In West Berkeley as the result of tho opposition that has developed there against the three Hindoo colonies, Chief Vollmer has declined to take action against the foreigners unless they violate the law, and this has not mitigated the strong feeling against the Orientals. Tho police will take all necessary steps to prevent any attack upon the foreigners. The Hindoos are employees of varlous street-grading firms in this city and Oakland. They occupy three portable houses, recently erected in the neighborhood of Sixth and Grayson streets, while a fourth body of them is opening a lodging-house near the Southern Pacific tracks on Third street at Jones. Many of them dress in their native costume, though others have adopted the American garb, Even this fact has not lessened the animosity of the Americans, and the police are fearful that open trouble will break out if the Hindoos persist in maintaining a local residence. Following the complaints to Chief Vollmer, he ordered an investigation, only to learn that the Orientals were law-abiding citizens. He thereupon declined to interfere, calming he had no jurisdiction in the matter."
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