Walter U. Lum

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Walter Uriah Lum (Chinese: 林華耀, 1882-1961) was a Chinese American leader, newspaper editor, educator and an advocate for Chinese American civil rights.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lum was born in San Francisco to Lum Guey Yue and Yan Lan, and was the fourth child and only son.

In the 1860s, upon receiving stories from his brother Guey Yee about the successful mining ventures in California, Guey Yue, Yan Lan, and Choy Fung (Walter U. Lum's older sister) emigrated to the United States from Xinhui in the Siyi area of Guangdong in China. However, rather than mining, the Lum brothers catered to Chinese and Euro-American miners by opening up a grocery store in the Sacramento River area. In 1879, the entire family relocated to San Francisco so the Lum brothers could open another grocery store. By the time Lum was born in 1882, the family had established their roots in the city.

When it came time for Lum's formal education, his parents wanted to prevent him from being teased in the American school system due to his Chinese-style clothing and background. Thus, Lum received his education from private tutors; thereby becoming fluent in both Chinese and English.


In 1904, Lum, Joseph Lum (no relation) and Ng Gunn reorganized the Native Sons of the Golden State (renamed the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, CACA, in 1915) to support Chinese American rights and oppose the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, including a boycott in China of American goods.[2] Lum was Grand President of the organization and its governing body the Grand Lodge on different occasions for a total of about twelve years.[1]

Around 1912 he joined the staff of Young China, the newspaper of the Chinese Nationalist Party in the US for a few years. He worked at various times as a reporter, translator and editor.

He briefly served as vice president and managing director of the Chinese-owned China Mail Steamship Line. When financial difficulties increased, Lum received death threats from one of the “fighting tongs” and had to hire bodyguards. Eventually, he resigned.

Many members of CACA had, like Lum, received their formal education in English. However, in order for CACA to fully reach out to both immigrant and American-born Chinese, in 1924 Lum founded the Chinese Times newspaper, written in Chinese, and referred by some as the first Chinese language newspaper in the United States.[3] By 1929, Chinese Times had the highest circulation among the Chinese newspapers in San Francisco. For thirty-five years, Lum served as the editor, managing editor, vice president, and president of the Chinese Times Publishing Company.[4]

Personal life (Daughter Emma Ping Lum)[edit]

In 1899, Lum married Gum Young Lee (1885-1936). She bore him seven children, including daughter Emma Ping Lum (born August 10, 1910).

Emma Ping Lum would become the first Chinese American woman to practice law in California and the United States. She earned her A.B. from San Francisco State College (1934) and an M.A. from Columbia University (1943). During World War II, due to her fluency in various Chinese dialects, she served in San Francisco’s Office of Censorship (earning a certificate of merit for her service). As of 1952, she became the first Chinese American female to practice before the United States Supreme Court. By 1966, she had long established her legal practice at 745 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. Her affiliations included the California State Bar Association, San Francisco Bar Association, the Queen’s Bench, and the Kappa Beta Phi legal sorority. She also traveled extensively to Europe, Cuba, and Hong Kong during her distinguished career. She died in May 1989.[5]


One of his early political efforts focused upon repealing the Expatriation Act of 1907, which stated "that any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband." This effort failed; the policy in question was later partially repealed by the Cable Act, but still applied if the husband was ineligible for citizenship due to Asian descent.

Lum wanted to block the bill that supported the racial ideas of the Chinese Exclusion Act (Caminette Bill). Caminette Bill made it so that if a father of a Chinese American was not a Native American, he would not have the power to vote and as a result, the offspring of that father will also be denied the power.

Lum funded study courses for Chinese Americans that taught 3000 to 4000 characters. The method of teaching in this school was similar to the western way of teaching.

In 1941 Lum started an experimental school that ran two hours a day, five days week and taught about fifty mostly American-born children of members divided into two classes. Lum was the principal and one of the instructors. He seized the opportunity to implement some of his ideas on teaching Chinese to the American-born. The classes used both were in the more easily understood vernacular style and were chosen with an emphasis on teaching vocabulary commonly used in contemporary society. These teaching methods generated some favorable results.

In 1943, the school became a casualty of World War II. Enrollment dropped to twelve. By mid 1943, the school closed.


Walter U. Lum Place is a street in San Francisco's Chinatown named in Lum's honor. In addition, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance named the National Walter U. Lum Scholarship after him.


  1. ^ a b "Walter U. Lum: Chinese American Pioneer and Civil Rights Leader" (PDF). East/West (Chinese-American news magazine). East/West Pub. Co., San Francisco, California. 1985-02-27. Retrieved 2016-11-12 – via 
  2. ^ Zhao, Xiaojian (2002). "Remaking Chinese America: Immigration, Family, and Community, 1940-1965". Google Books. Rutgers University Press. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  3. ^ Fong-Torres, Shirley (2008). "The Woman Who Ate Chinatown: A San Francisco Odyssey". Google Books. iUniverse. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  4. ^ Wong, K. (Feb 7, 2011). "Claiming America". Google Books. Temple University Press. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ Watson, Jonathan (March 2016). "Legacy of American Female Attorneys" (PDF). Solano County Law Library. Retrieved March 2, 2016.