Voltaire Network
May 13, 1950

Early US Race Laws Designed to Protect White Employment


In 1840, in California, a territory seized from Mexico-the Spanish-speaking, Native American population was the majority. Its members worked in the gold mines and across the fertile lands of the Sonora Valley. When the gold fever hit in 1849, the massive influx of European immigrants transformed Mexicans into a minority. Those who recently arrived quickly created a legislative arsenal to displace the Mexicans. The Greaser Act (an anti-Mexican law) was formally enacted “to protect honest people from the excesses of vagabonds.” That law allowed the police to arrest, using force if is necessary, and to deport or send to forced labor any person suspected of being a vagabond. According to that law, a vagabond is a person identified by the term “Greaser” (pejorative for Mexican) and, generally, all people of Spanish or Indian blood.” The law authorized local militias to impose terror against the Mexican community, to confiscate their property and to lynch any recalcitrant individuals with impunity.

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