Turning Points
Ideas from the National Archives for National History Day

Resources at
The National Archives at San Francisco

I. Records of Turning Points in the Status of United States Citizenship

- Are You a Citizen if You're Born Here? Yes, Thanks to The Wong Kim Ark Case

The "Wong Kim Ark" federal court case established, for ALL US-born American descendants of immigrants, the legal guarantee of US citizenship. Wong Kim Ark, son of Chinese immigrants, was born in San Francisco in 1873. 1882 saw passage of the first of a series of "Chinese Exclusion Acts," which prohibited Chinese immigrants (and later several other Asian nationalities) from becoming US citizens. It also prohibited Chinese immigrants classed as "laborers" from even entering the US. In 1894 Wong went to China for a visit. He returned to the United States in August 1895, but was denied entry by the San Francisco Collector of Customs on the claim that, although born at 751 Sacramento Street in San Francisco, Wong was not a citizen. Wong appealed for judicial review of this decision by executive branch immigration officials. From the US District Court in San Francisco, his case went through the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The precedent-setting final ruling was that US-born descendants of immigrants could not be denied citizenship, regardless of their ethnicity or the nationality of their ancestors. [Strangely, recognition of citizenship for all US-born Native Americans was not established until 1924.] Wong Kim Ark's original immigration and court case files are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. Select textual documents and photographs are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

- Who (Which Branch of Government) Decides Who is A Citizen? The Jung Ah Lung and Ju Toy Cases

Brought to trial in 1885, "In Re Jung Ah Lung" was a case of major significance for immigration--especially Chinese immigration during the early period of the Chinese Exclusion Acts (1882-1943)--and for constitutional law relating to due process. The United States, represented by the US Attorney and Collector of Customs, sought to prohibit Jung Ah Lung, a Chinese immigrant who had established US residency and taken a temporary trip abroad to China, from returning to the US. Their strategy was to convince the US District Court that only documents issued and officially recognized by federal immigration authorities, such as the "Return Certificate," were acceptable as evidence of US residency. Jung Ah Lung had lost his Return Certificate during a robbery. San Francisco federal Judge Hoffman sided with the immigrant, holding that regardless of the Exclusion Act, a Chinese person claiming US residency should be entitled to the same benefits of habeas corpus, and due process in presenting relevant evidence in court, as "any other human being in this country." Hoffman's position was appealed and upheld by the US Circuit and US Supreme Courts. This precedent for all immigrant rights to due process in court lasted only 20 years, until it was taken away in the "Ju Toy case" (See below). The records of the federal trial case are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. Select textual documents and photographs are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

Archival San Francisco federal court and Immigration and Naturalization Service case files relating to Ju Toy, an Oakland, California cook and Chinese immigrant to the US, document a fundamental change in federal interpretation and application of administrative and constitutional law relating to all US immigrants. Prior to the Ju Toy case in 1904-1905, immigrants to the US had been able through "writs of habeas corpus" to obtain open review, in a federal court of law, of executive agency decisions affecting their claims to US residency and citizenship. This option had been wielded with great success by Chinese immigrants fighting executive branch enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, beginning in 1882. In the Ju Toy case, a US District Court ruling initially favorable to the immigrant was reversed upon appeal in the US Circuit Court (San Francisco) and then the US Supreme Court. After "In Re Ju Toy," "due process" for ALL US immigrants was limited to appeals within the executive branch, except when there was a claim of unlawful or arbitrary actions by immigration officials. Aliens and alleged citizens could no longer count on their "day in court" to contest the impact of immigration bureau decisions denying their right to be in the US. Records of the original trial and appeals cases, as well as Ju Toy's immigration case file, are available at NARA's Pacific Region in San Francisco. Select textual documents and photographs related to Ju Toy are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

II. Records of the "Day Which Will Live in Infamy"- the 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor:

The December 7, 1941 attack by Japan on the US Naval installation at Pearl Harbor precipitated United States entry into World War II. While the entry of the US was regarded by many as inevitable and contingency planning for a war with Japan had occurred in the Pacific for years prior, who knows what the ultimate outcome might have been had the timing of that entry been delayed rather than "forced" at Pearl Harbor? A number of significant Naval, Congressional hearings, and other records documenting the Pearl Harbor attack are found in the holdings of the National Archives in Washington DC, while some others are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. The latter, within records of the 14th Naval District headquartered at Pearl Harbor, include both textual records and photographs. Some records document preparation for the "inevitable" war with Japan in the Pacific, such as 14th Naval District Commandant's Office General Correspondence (Formerly Classified) 1912-1941 and the War Plans Officer's Pre-War Planning Records (Formerly Classified) 1931-1941. Among those dealing with the attack's aftermath are General Correspondence of the 14th Naval District's District Staff Headquarters and its Commandant, of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard itself, and particularly records of the Commanding Officer of Fleet Salvage Unit. While the large volume of the above records and lack of a detailed finding aid make it advisable for students to visit NARA-San Francisco for research on the above, several small sets of records relating to the actual attack are more easily researched, including the 14th Naval District's Significant Battle Records, Pearl Harbor (Formerly Classified), 1941 and a series of spectacular photographs found in Habeas Corpus Case 298 of the US District Court, Hawaii. Selections from the latter, along with copies of some other National Archives records located in Washington, DC, and relating to Pearl Harbor, are available on the Online Catalog (OPA). There are also a large number of other government and private Web pages dealing with Pearl Harbor-related records and research.

III. Records of Milestone Events in the Birth of the Environmental Movement

The Birth of Federal "Environmental Injunctions"- North Bloomfield Mining Company Court Cases: During the late 19th century, mining for gold using high-pressure water pipelines polluted rivers, clogged navigation channels, exacerbated flooding, and destroyed rich farmlands in the western U.S. In the landmark environmental case Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, which pitted farmers against miners, hydraulic mining was ruled "a public and private nuisance." Subsequent to this 1884 decision, numerous lawsuits were filed against other mines to close or regulate their hydraulic mining activities. One result was what is widely regarded as the first federal court injunction handed down to curtail corporate environmental (RG 21; US Circuit Court for the Northern District of California; Civil Case 2900, Woodruff v. North Bloomfield. Also civil cases 5354, 7865, 8651, 10738, and others, all in the same court.) These records are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. Select textual documents and photographs related to this case are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

The Birth of Modern 20th Century Environmental Activism: Records of Citizen Involvement in the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill: On January 29, 1969, a Union Oil Company off-shore drilling platform in the Pacific Ocean off the southern California coast near Santa Barbara suffered a "blowout." Over 11 days, 200,000 gallons of crude oil rose to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, spreading over an area 800 miles square. This small collection of records, which should be used in conjunction with other federal, state, and private collections covering the Santa Barbara Spill, helps to provide insight into problems in coordinating initial corporate and government responses to the disaster; the breadth and intensity of public interest; diverse proposals of citizens to deal with it; and the beginning of major changes in policy toward off-shore oil drilling. The Santa Barbara Oil Spill, related media publicity, and resultant widespread interest in mitigation and prevention of environmental disasters, is regarded as a "watershed event" in the evolution of public environmental activism. (RG 412, San Francisco Regional Office, Records Related to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, 1969). Records of the Environmental Protection Agency for the Santa Barbara Oil Spill are available at the National Archives at San Francisco.

The End of "the Giant Civil Engineering Era"-Papers of John Reber: The "Reber Plan" was a civil mid-20th century civil engineering proposal which would leave modern proponents of ecology and "environmental engineering" aghast. Conceived of in the 1940s by John Reber, it envisioned two massive barriers running across San Francisco and San Pablo Bays to isolate them from the Pacific Ocean. The barriers would create two vast freshwater lakes, keeping ocean salt water our of the Bay while supplying irrigation water to farms; in addition, a freeway and railroad would be built across the top. Between the lakes, Reber proposed the reclamation of 20,000 acres of land that would be crossed by a freshwater channel. West of the channel would be airports, a naval base, and a pair of locks comparable in size to those of the Panama Canal. Industrial plants would be developed on the east. In the 1930s and 1940s, numerous grand-scale, Faustian civil engineering proposals were approved and led to such massive projects as the Hoover and Columbia Basin Dams. The Reber Plan, however, did not fare so well due to heightened critical attention toward environmental effects. In 1953 the Army Corps of Engineers recommended more detailed study on the plan and eventually constructed the famous "San Francisco Bay Model," still in operation today, to test the hydraulics of the project and its environmental impact. The barriers, which were the plan's essential element, failed to survive this critical study. The scrapping of the Reber Plan in the early 1960s signaled the end of an era of grandiose civil works projects aimed at totally restructuring a region's natural environment, and the birth of the environmental era. (RG 77; San Francisco District; Papers of John Reber relating to the Reber Plan for San Francisco Bay and Other Subjects, ca. 1917-1967). These records are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. For further descriptions of the records, see Records in the National Archives-Pacific Sierra Region for the Study of Science, Technology, Natural Resources, and the Environment.

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