Lum v. Rice

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Lum v. Rice
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Submitted October 12, 1927
Decided November 21, 1927
Full case nameGong Lum, et al. v. Rice et al.
Citations275 U.S. 78 (more)
48 S. Ct. 91; 72 L. Ed. 172; 1927 U.S. LEXIS 256
Case history
PriorTrial court ordered writ of mandamus. Reversed by Supreme Court of Mississippi, 139 Miss. 760, 104 So. 105.
SubsequentAffirmed, 139 Miss. 760.
A child of Chinese blood, born in and a citizen of the United States, is not denied the equal protection of the law by being classed by the state among the colored races who are assigned to public schools separate from those provided for the whites if equal facilities for education are afforded to both classes.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William H. Taft
Associate Justices
Oliver W. Holmes Jr. · Willis Van Devanter
James C. McReynolds · Louis Brandeis
George Sutherland · Pierce Butler
Edward T. Sanford · Harlan F. Stone
Case opinion
MajorityTaft, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV
Overruled by
In Part by Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 (1927), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the exclusion on account of race of a child of Chinese ancestry from a public school did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The decision effectively approved the exclusion of minority children from schools reserved for whites.[1]


In 1924, a nine-year-old Chinese American named Martha Lum, daughter of Gong Lum, was prohibited from attending the Rosedale Consolidated High School of the Rosedale Consolidated School District in Bolivar County, Mississippi solely because she was of Chinese descent.[2] There was no school in the district maintained for Chinese students, and she was forced by compulsory attendance laws to attend school.

A lower court granted the plaintiff's request of a writ of mandamus to force the members of the Board of Trustees to admit Martha Lum. Gong Lum's case was not that racial discrimination as such was illegal but that his daughter, being Chinese, had incorrectly been classified as colored by the authorities.

Since the ruling went against them, the Board of Trustees became the plaintiff, and Lum was named the defendant in the case Rice v. Gong Lum, which was heard in the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision and allowed the Board of Trustees to exclude Martha Lum from the school for white children. Gong Lum appealed the state Supreme Court's ruling to the US Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's decision[edit]

In an opinion written by Chief Justice William Howard Taft, the US Supreme Court affirmed the Mississippi Supreme Court's ruling and thus the position of the Board of Trustees. In the unanimous opinion, Taft held that the petitioner had not shown that there were no segregated schools accessible for the education of Martha Lum in Mississippi:

We must assume, then, that there are school districts for colored children in Bolivar county, but that no colored school is within the limits of the Rosedale consolidated high school district. This is not inconsistent with there being at a place outside of that district and in a different district, a colored school which the plaintiff Martha Lum may conveniently attend.

Taft further stated that given the accessibility of segregated schools, the question then was whether a person of Chinese ancestry, born in and a citizen of the United States, was denied equal protection of the law by being given the opportunity to attend a school that received "only children of the brown, yellow or black races." In reference to Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, Taft concluded that the "right and power of the state to regulate the method of providing for the education of its youth at public expense is clear." Additionally, Taft pointed to a number of federal and state court decisions, most prominently Plessy v. Ferguson, all of which had upheld segregation in the public sphere and particularly in the realm of public education. Accordingly, Taft concluded:

Most of the cases cited arose, it is true, over the establishment of separate schools as between white pupils and black pupils; but we cannot think that the question is any different, or that any different result can be reached, assuming the cases above cited to be rightly decided, where the issue is as between white pupils and the pupils of the yellow races. The decision is within the discretion of the state in regulating its public schools, and does not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.

The judgment of the Mississippi Supreme Court was affirmed. Martha Lum was not allowed to go to the school for white children.

Subsequent developments[edit]

Lum was effectively overruled by the Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools. However, an important part of the decision still stands. The power of the state to make racial distinctions in its school system, and to determine the race of its students, has not been overturned because it was not an issue in Brown v. Board of Education.[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BROWN V. BOARD: Timeline of School Integration in the U.S." Learning for Justice. 2004-04-01. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  2. ^ Chapter 10: Gong Lum et al. v. Rice et al. (1927). In: Tong, Benson (editor). Asian American Children: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0313330425, 9780313330421. p. 182.
  3. ^ 347 U.S. 483
  4. ^ Rawles, Lee. (Host). (2017, May 17).How a Chinese American Family Challenged School Segregation in 1920s Mississippi. ABA Journal: Modern Law Library [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

Further reading[edit]

  • Payne, Charles (1984). "Multicultural Education and Racism in American Schools". Theory into Practice. Taylor & Francis. 23 (2): 124–131. doi:10.1080/00405848409543102. JSTOR 1476441.
  • Adrienne, Berard (2016). Water tossing boulders : how a family of Chinese immigrants led the first fight to desegregate schools in the Jim Crow South. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807033531. OCLC 939994405.
  • White, G. Edward. "The lost episode of Gong Lum v. Rice." Green Bag 18.2 (2015): 191-205. online

External links[edit]