1920 Politics (Hawaii)

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1920 Politics also referred to as “Jim Crow” circa 1930 was a Republican political strategy to reassert the authority of the white race and promote American Anglo-Saxon values.

Strike of 1920[edit]

Before 1920 Hawaii was divided into various nationalist groups of Whites, Hawaiians, Chinese Portuguese, Japanese, Okinawans, Filipinos, and Koreans.

At the time white nationalism by Republicans had been an acceptable position. Since annexation the white oligarchy was composed of three branches: the HSPA and Big Five sugar plantations dominated economics, the Republican Party dominated politics, and the white minority dominated society. These organs supported each other: one important example was that the plantations were an important source of Republican votes. On Election Day the crude election booths allowed plantation management to survey which worker voted Republican or not, those that did not were disciplined or fired. While several workers had the right to vote, they valued their livelihood more than they valued their right to choose their candidate.[1][2][3]

Racism was not only a social issue but more importantly an economic issue. Hawaii’s plantation economy relied on a great amount of cheap labor to work the fields and any increase in wages had exorbitant costs, as pay was distributed over the large work force. For the white planters, the two largest groups — the Japanese and Filipinos — rivaled each other, dividing the labor force so that when one group went on strike the other would become strike breakers. But in 1920 the Japanese and Filipinos reconciled their differences and joined in the dual strike of 1920.


After the 1920 strike the attention was given to the Asian majority. At the time, half of public school students were of Japanese ancestry. The white minority petitioned Governor Charles J. McCarthy for racial segregation to prevent their children for being exposed to corrupting influences of the colored students. McCarthy held little sympathy for the immigrant Asian population and agreed to create English Standard Schools for whites and some Hawaiians given privileges over the normal public school.[4] Republican Governor Wallace Rider Farrington came to power and on his agenda was that the “Racial elements are out of balance and seriously in need of adjusting”.[5] Republicans feared of a united labor force would taking over the economy and eventually politics, overturning the plantation economy, race hierarchy, and social values of Hawaii. The previous strategy known as Divide-and-Control had failed. Republicans created a new strategy to prevent majority rule. Divide-and-Control was unstable since it relied on different ethnicities confronting each other. Instead of Divide-and-Control, where Japanese identity was the center of the Japanese community and the Filipino identity was the center of the Filipino community, the 1920 Politics strategy was to Americanize the Japanese and Filipino to disconnecting them from their own identity, to adopt the Western identity and further the white race.

The Filipinos were considered a mongrel race, bastards of Asian and Hispanic mixing that produced a primitive people of low intelligence. Japanese were a pure race and better organized despite being paganistic barbarians. Armed with this logic Republicans it was decided to conform the Japanese first and then the Filipinos. The logic of the campaign was to assault the Japanese first and once they were conquered, the Filipinos with their limited mental capacity, would be too weak to oppose the movement. If they attack the Filipinos first, the Filipinos would turn to the Japanese to arrange resistance to the campaign. Even if the Filipinos were broken then the Republicans would have to challenge the Japanese who had organized the Filipinos.


Farrington’s strategy was to target the schools and the next generations while the plantations dealt with the adults by promoting Christianity, converting to the American religion.

Immigrants to Hawaii usually encountered Christian groups proselytizing to newcomers, but with plantation owners allowing high tolerance for the immigrants’ culture, these immigrants continued their own religions. During the strike of 1920 Buddhist and Shinto churches took the risk of supporting the striking workers. Christian churches on the other hand wanted to maintain good relations with the plantation owners and opposed the strike.

A solution was proposed by Umetaro Okumura as a means to assimilate the Japanese population, with his father Reverend Takie Okumura, he proposed evangelicalizing the Japanese community. Once converted to the Christianity, the planters could manipulate the Japanese through the churches and discourage their workers from criticizing poor conditions, leaving the labor force, requesting pay raises, and creating unions. An additional outcome of motivation to Okumura was if he was effective in converting the Japanese community into a Christian fundamentalist society it gave him the opportunity to become the theocratic leader over the Japanese.

The white oligarchy believed Japanese would always believe another ethnic Japanese, this being a primitive but effective defense amongst a people of limited intelligence. Believing Takie Okumura could gain acceptance as a Japanese and infiltrate the Japanese community to carry out his agenda the oligarchy gave its support to Okumura. He received support from planters brothers William and George Castle, former Republican governors George Carter, Walter Frear, and governor at that time Farrington. In exchange for higher productivity the Evangelical churches would be financially secured by the plantations and Republican would give government support in the spread and influence of Christianity.

Okumura was an avid opponent of the unions he refused to shelter or aid strikers following the evictions. His philosophy was that to challenge the white authority in the form of labor unions was to produce immediate gains but at a long-term loss by having a hostile relation with the power holders that would cause difficulties later on. Instead he believed in enduring the immediate hardships and accepting the white authority, become Americanized and Christianized so that they could say ‘your country is my country; your God is my God’. Okumura believed deeply in the rule of law, under the Republic he made a crusade of ridding Honolulu of prostitution and gambling. Since 1919 labor unions had been categorized as organized crime to Okumura they were the rural counterpart to Honolulu’s syndicates and the unionists and pagan priests that supported them were no better than the pimps and gangsters of Honolulu.

In 1921 Farrington applied new requirements for school emphasizing the English Language, American History, and democracy.[6] In 1923 the Government passed Act 30, Act 171, and in 1925 Act 152. The Acts limiting the education and putting finical pressure on Foreign language schools. Okumura was appointed on a committee to regulate the Language school text books.

In January 1921 Okumura began an “Education Campaign” to coax Japanese into Christianity by educating Japanese its similarities to Japanese culture and promote a strong work ethic.[7][unreliable source?] Okumura initially convinced Buddhists clergy and Japanese businessmen to support the program believing Okumura was taking an initiative to reconcile tensions between the two faiths and join together to alleviate hostilities between Whites and Japanese.

The campaign was flawed from the start since it was known that he opposed the 1920 strike and sided with planters. It was also known that the plantations were providing Okumura and his colleagues with facilities and paying their expenses, Okumura’s close relations with the planters raised distrust amongst the Japanese. The Japanese unionists began to reject Okumura as a “traitor” and “betrayer”. Many did not go the programs and those who did found it teaching them to become subservient workers. Amongst Okumura’s teachings was to reject materialism and value their role in society, this had an adverse reaction from an audience with little possessions and low social status and Okumura was accused of being a propagandist for the wealthy social elite. Buddhist priests were irate to discover the Christian agenda to converting Buddhists and that Umetaro Okumura was discussing with the planters to restrict Buddhist practices and close Buddhist churches on plantation land. Okumura was also known for his offensive remarks toward Buddhists “alien” and “pagan”. Instead of attracting the Japanese to Christianity to correct their spiritual flaws, the criticisms deepened their devotion to Buddhism or Shintoism and rejected Christianity.

The integration program was based largely on the Haole-Hawaiian Alliance.[8] Since the missionaries of the 1820s the primitive Hawaiian religion was easily overcome by Christianity, Hawaiians had disowned their heritage, traded Hawaiian values for American values, and adopted English, driving the Hawaiian language to near extinction. Hawaiians were the proper colored Americans and model second class citizens for this they were given opportunities and rewards for their subservience. But for the Evangelicals the Japanese were frustratingly irrational, voluntarily subjecting themselves to unnecessary hardship and discrimination by their refusal to forgo their heritage and religious beliefs. This mutinous and hostile attitudes were what kept them third-class citizens and barred them for the advantages enjoy by the Hawaiians.

The foreign languages controversy was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927 in Farrington v. Tokushige. Farrington and the Republicans they had put their interpretational of American values that certain people who deserved freedoms received them while those who abused their rights should not, on trial. The languages schools were believed to be an abuse of American freedom to perpetuate un-American views. The case was an hypocritical embarrassment, the courts disagreed with the government and found Farrington violating the same values he was imposing. For Farrington and the Republicans, Okumura proved himself a liability more than an asset and disassociated themselves Okumura.

With little progress and the Supreme Court case, the Planters reanalyzed the Education Campaign and were beginning to doubt Okumura and complained he had made the Japanese more skeptical of American culture and more belligerent than before. The Planters even accused Okumura of being a double agent because he said he would, making the Japanese submissive workers and solving the Japanese Problem, instead he exacerbated the conflict and putting Whites and Japanese further at odds. The planters discontinued funding Okumura’s campaign in 1927 and Okumura ended the campaign in 1929.[citation needed]


Shortly before Lawrence M. Judd became Governor a series of events revived 1920 Politics.[9] In 1928 a White 10-year-old boy by the name of George Gill Jamieson was kidnapped and murdered by a 19-year-old Japanese man by the name of Myles Fukunaga who was executed after Judd became governor.[9] In 1931 Thalia Massie a White woman, claimed to have been raped by five or six Hawaiians. Five non-White men in a separate incident the same night of the rape were put on trial that ended in a hung jury. After the trial one suspect was beaten, Horace Ida, and another was shot and killed. The killers of the latter, Joseph Kahahawai, involved Massie’s mother and husband and two other navy men. After pressure from Congress and the White community Judd communed their sentences of 10 years to one hour in his office. The Japanese compared the petition for clemency of Fukunaga, a colored, who killed a White to Massie’s parents and cohorts, Whites, who killed a Colored. Not even the White community was satisfied. Judd was criticized for giving a commutation, not a pardon, although it had negligible differences, it was received that Judd was not committed to the belief that Massie’s avengers were justified.

Following these events Judd and the Republican government had to reassure the White minority in Hawaii and Whites nationally of their safety. Under Farrington the Hawaiians were exempted from the 1920 politics by the Haole-Hawaiian Alliance. But after the Massie Affair doubles arose over entrusting the power of authority to the Hawaiians. Under Alliance, Hawaiians were able to receive government jobs which had included police officers and prison guards. But after examining these positions U.S. Attorney General Seth Richardson found an incompetent police force and sympathetic prison guards.[9] The Hawaiians had betrayed the trust of the White leadership to carryout their demands. The Hawaiians were a liability and phased out by Whites.[10] Further pressure to Americanize Hawaii came from a renewed attempted at statehood.[11]


Under Judd a new 1920 Politics strategy was implemented against the Japanese population and that was to ignore them. This change was a result of several reasons. Judd had learned from Farrington’s social attack intended to make the Japanese community subordinate Christians servants and laborers instead made them anti-American and Buddhists and Shintos anti-Christian and the vice versa made Whites anti-Japanese and Christians anti-Buddhists, concluding in a lawsuit that the Territory lost and failed to assimilate the Japanese community. In addition to avoiding conflict with the Japanese majority was a prospect of statehood and inciting civil unrest would not represent Hawaii positively to Congress and the statehood committee made a conscious effort to avoid discussion of the unassimilated Japanese.

One of the fears was realized: the Japanese left plantations at any opportunity and established their own shops and small businesses. Japanese were already the majority of the population. Another fear arose: If the Japanese became more active voters, that they would dominate the vote. Senator Hiram Bingham III, grandson of Hiram Bingham I, preferred the islands of his birth to remain in Caucasian hands rather than let democracy shift power into the hands of the Japanese. In 1932 he proposed a possible solution to congress, in a bill to make Hawaii a military territory under the U.S. Navy. It would have discontinued elections until Hawaii could be settles by Caucasians [12][13]

For many Japanese in the 1930s, minimal privacy at the voting stations, voter intimidation by Republicans that risked one’s job and livelihood, and a choice between anti-immigrant Democrats or White supremest Republicans resulted in more than 90% of Japanese-Americans did not vote.

Under the new policy the Japanese community was allowed to practice their traditions, culture, and religion relatively un-harassed by the government, planters, and Americanizing Christian organizations, but as long as they did not interfere with the Whites. The Christian movement was met with a strong counter-movement as the Japanese rejected Christianity as a ploy by the Planters. This created a resurgence of Buddhism in the 1930s which Christians dubbed “re-paganization”. Japanese businessmen helped finance Buddhists and Shinto ministries to move off the plantations to become more autonomous and form a strong Buddhist establishment. At its height, Buddhists accounted for one-third of the territories population. Students continued to be subjected to right-wing speakers in schools[14] and Japanese were rewards for showing progress of assimilating. Although things were far from satisfactory, the Japanese generally preferred Judd’s neglected over persecution under Farrington. Conversely Judd received criticism by the largely White, evangelical community that Buddhists and Shintos were allowed to practice their religion freely, even in public, without being challenged or in fear of molestation.

By the end of the 1930s a problem with the Haoles arose, with the strategy of ignoring the Japanese, Whites ignorant of the 1920s were unaware that Japanese were a menace to American society and studied eastern tradition, took a curiosity in Buddhist belief, and considered intermarriage with the low Race. Concern was taken to the erosion of traditional values by “Japanese Minded” Whites.


Since the Great Depression things were harsh for the Filipinos, considered the most inferior of the Asian race, acts of defiance such as striking, unionizing, or protesting were resolved with deportation back to the Philippines and 6,000 Filipinos were unemployed in Hawaii. Unlike the Japanese most Filipinos still worked the plantations and without Pablo Manlapit the Labor movement collapsed.

A product of the Great Depression was the Wagner Act that was made law in 1935 despite the Big Five and Hawaii Republicans lobbying against it. In response, Hawaii’s Republican controlled government flatly refused to acknowledge the Act claiming that Hawaii was a territory, not a state, therefore the law did not apply. In 1937 Hawaii was forced to implement Wagner Act by the federal government.

Despite the Depression a successful wild cat strike occurred in Puunene, Maui resulting in others strikes on Molokai, Hamakua, Kahuku, and Kekaha.

World War II[edit]

Politicians continued to wait for an answer on statehood; the 1930s turned into the 1940s with no decisive answer and any serious discussion on White settles remained in reserve of an affirmative failure of statehood.


Under William F. Quinn was open about bring an end to 1920 Politics. Quinn was not only been a member of the Republican Club, a faction of the Party opposed to 1920 Politics, he had been the second leader of the Club. After the sweeping losses of the election of 1954 Republicans had to change their strategy to survive.


  1. ^ Honor Killing by David E. Stannard p. 76
  2. ^ Working in Hawaii by Edward D. Beechert p. 274
  3. ^ Daws p. 366
  4. ^ Cane Fires by Gary Okihiro
  5. ^ Cane Fires by Gary Okihiro p.93
  6. ^ Shoal of Time by Gavan Daws p.309
  7. ^ Kodomo No Tame Ni-For the Sake of the Children by Dennis M. Ogawa
  8. ^ Shoal of Time by Gavan Daws p.311
  9. ^ a b c Daws p.328
  10. ^ Honor Killing by David E. Stannard p.57
  11. ^ Daws p.337
  12. ^ Hawaii Pono by Lawrence H. Fuchs
  13. ^ Cane Fires by Gary Y. Okihiro
  14. ^ Hawaii, islands under the influence by Noel J. Kent p.87