Race boxes at ports of entry
How passenger manifests racialized aliens arriving in the US (and Canada)
By William Wetherall
Drafted 9 September 2009
First posted 1 December 2009
Last updated 10 August 2014
Passports and other certifications of affiliation, status, and authorization at ports of entry
1911 Race or People guidebook (United States) Aino | Japanese | Korean
Alien passenger manifest guidelines United States | Canada
The United States required racial classifications on passenger manifests, and in 1911 the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C. published Dictionary of Races or Peoples. Compiled by the Immigration Commission for the purpose of facilitating such classifications, the guide was written not for the "ethnologist" but for the "student of immigration" who wants "an approximately correct statement as to the ethnical status of immigrant races or peoples, their languages, numbers, and the countries from which they come" (Introductory, page 3).
The introduction speaks of the "five grand divisions" -- "the Caucasian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Malay, and American, or, as familiarly called, the white, black, yellow, brown, and red races" -- "made upon physical or somatological grounds, while the subdivisions of these into a multitude of smaller 'races' is made largely on a linguistic basis" (Introductory, page 3).
1911 Race or People Guidebook (United States)
INS officials in the United States used the Dictionary of Races or Peoples, prepared in 1911, until the early 1950s.
The following transcription of the cover of the first edition of the guidebook is based on scans at The Internet Archive. A copy is also posted at UM Digital Library Production Service (UMDL) [University of Michigan].
REPORTS OF THE IMMIGRATION COMMISSION
DICTIONARY OF RACES OR
Presented by Mr. DILLINGHAM
The 1911 guidebook had hundreds of classifications, including the following, in alphabetical order. I have shown the page number of the start of entry in [brackets].
AFRICAN (black). (See Negro.) [page 13]
AINO. [page 13]
CAUCASIAN, CAUCASIC, EUROPEAN, EURAFRICAN, or WHITE race. [page 30].
FILIPINO or PHILIPPINE ISLANDER. [page 51].
HAWAIIAN or SANDWICH ISLANDER. [page 73]
HEBREW, JEWISH, or ISRAELITE. [page 73]
INDIAN, AMERINDIAN, AMERICAN, or RED race. [page 77]
JAPANESE. [page 85]
The people of the Korean peninsula.
The full AINO entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (page 13, left).
AINO. A primitive Caucasian-like People in Japan, now numbering less than 20,000. (See Japanese, Cau- casian, and Mongolian.)
The full JAPANESE entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (pages 85-86).
JAPANESE. The people of Japan.
Although many people may mistake
The social characteristics and impor-
The full KOREAN entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (pages 87-88).
KOREAN. The people of the Korean
Alien passenger manifest guidelines
The United States set the example for the fairly small number of countries that sought to racialize people at their ports of entry. Other countries that did so generally adopted the classification rules used by the United States, but with some variations.
Sources of information
The following overview of the history of the overseeing of immigration in the United States is based on various guides related to Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) section [/research/guide-fed-records/groups/085.html] of The National Archives, a US government website managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The transcriptions of the text on alien passenger manifests and instructions related to nationality and race were partly based on information obtained from various genealogy websites which have posted transcriptions of selected manifests for their users -- and partly based on images of actual passenger manifest documents posted in the Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Arrival Records) section [/genealogy/immigration/] of the website of The National Achieves website.
Availability of alien passenger manifests
The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 makes most federal records related to immigration and naturalization available to the public, subject to restrictions by the the Privacy Act of 1974. In principle, passenger manifests are accessible, and NARA now facilitates individuals seeking to confirm records of arrival of immigrant ancestors on America's shores.
The general public interest in early passenger manifests at ports of entry to the United States is thus mostly genealogical. My interest in the manifests, though, concerns how arriving aliens were described by nationality and race.
Naturalization and immigration matters were handled by various departments of the US government since 1797. Such matters were usually overseen by a single department, which acted as the competent agency, meaning the agency with was primarily responsible for implementing and enforcing related laws. However, other departments were delegated administrative tasks to facilitate implementation and enforcement.
Aliens applying for visas and other permits at US consulates get the impression that the Department of State controls immigration. At one time it was the competent department, but for more than a century it has acted only as an overseas agent for other departments.
Such division of labor is common in other countries, including Japan. Japanese consulates, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, process applications for visas and other permits to enter Japan. But relevant laws and regulations -- meaning the processing and issuance rules -- are under the Ministry of Justice. And the visas issued by consulates are provisional -- i.e., meaningless -- until they are recognized and approved at a port of entry in Japan by an immigration officer, who reviews the alien's qualifications for the provisional permit, and has the authority to refuse admission to Japan, or to change the type of visa or other permit and attached conditions.
Department of State
Secretary of State (1819-1864)
Commissioner of Immigration (1864-1868)
Secretary of State (1868-1874)
Department of the Treasury
Secretary of the Treasury (1869-1891)
Office of the Superintendent of Immigration (1891-1895)
Bureau of Immigration (1895-1903)
Department of Commerce and Labor
Bureau of Immigration (1903-1906)
Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (1906-1913)
Department of Labor
Bureau of Immigration (1913-1933)
Bureau of Naturalization (1913-1933)
To be continued.