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A Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name

Jun 9, 2015
Cover photo

Reactions to the 1914 marriage of Hazelle Baker and Arthur S. Goto.

 

“No license must be issued authorizing the marriage of a white person with a negro, mulatto, or Mongolian.” – Civil Code of the State of California: Adopted March 21, 1872, with Amendments Up to and Including Those of the Forty-first Session of Legislature, 1915

“It is my considered opinion that the statutes here involved are the product of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance, and I am happy to join in the decision of this court holding that they are invalid and unenforceable.” – Justice Jesse W. Carter, opinion in Perez v. Sharp, 1948

 

“If I am not married legally then I am bound to him morally,” said Hazelle Baker to an L.A. Times reporter in the fall of 1914. “I love him and love does not stop at color or creed. I shall stick with him whatever happens.”

The 22-year-old Pasadenan was speaking of her husband, Arthur S. Goto, 28. That summer, she had married him, but their marriage had been invalidated by the California courts for a simple reason: Baker was white and Goto was Japanese. Under California state law at the time, no white person could legally marry “negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes.”

Marriages Null + Void

Text from California state statutes, circa 1905. (Via Google Books.)

Goto and Baker met sometime in 1913, in Pasadena, where Goto ran an “oriental goods” shop in one of the city’s fancier hotels. They fell in love, dated for about six months, then Goto proposed marriage.

Finding that no local authority would issue a license, however, they did what any smart young couple would: chartered a boat in San Pedro Harbor and got married three miles off the California coast, in international waters.

By marrying outside California’s borders, Goto and Baker hoped their marriage would be recognized when they returned to shore. But when they moved into an apartment together on South Hill Street several months later, someone – perhaps a nosy neighbor – ratted them out.

They were arrested and charged with violating the “rooming house law” or “Eddie Ordinance,” which prevented unmarried couples from living together. A marriage certificate from the Crescent Boat Company made little difference to the arresting officer.

Baker and Goto were not the only ones to resort to such desperate measures. At the time, Capt. King was turning a lively profit providing such services to other interracial couples as well. On October 14, 1914, the Los Angeles Times published an exposé on King’s illicit business. “Amazing Revelations,” blared the headline. “Two Hundred American Girls Here are Wives of Orientals – Investigation of Illegal High-sea Marriage of Pretty Pasadena Girl and Son of Yokohama Millionaire Brings Startling Conditions to Light – San Pedro Miscegenation Market Running Full Blast.”

Hazelle Baker, in a picture from the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14th, 1914. (Accessed through the Pasadena Public Library.)

Hazelle Baker, in a picture from the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14th, 1914. (Accessed through the Pasadena Public Library.)

“Eighteen of these girls were married under the maritime law on the high seas three miles or more from San Pedro,” continued the newspaper. “The others claim to have been married in States which permit miscegenation […] Marriage on the high seas by a boat’s captain has been held illegal under the Supreme Court.”

Many in Los Angeles’s Japanese community saw the publicity as a chance to test the legality of interracial marriage in the courts. Some even raised money for Goto and Baker’s defense, hoping theirs would be a litmus test for future cases.

Carl S. Seki, another Japanese man who had married a white woman at sea in 1912, told the L.A. Times, “We were very anxious for this case to go through the local courts […] We Japanese who possess [marriage] certificates were willing to stand the expense of testing the case.” Plaintively, he added, “Those of us who can afford it will go to a State where we can be legally married; those who are not financially able will be compelled to leave the women they are now living with.”

Yet Baker and Goto were unprepared to suffer the possible threats of violence that might accompany such a move, for at the time, attempted marriages between white and Asians were a dangerous enterprise. In 1909, when a white woman in Corte Madera, California became engaged to a Japanese man named Gunjiro Aoki, white citizens threw bricks at Aoki and drove him out of town, threatening to tar and feather him if he returned. When Emery left a few days later, she was greeted at the train station by an angry mob hurling tin cans and shouting insults.

In 1910 when a Japanese man, George Masaki, and a white woman, Juliette Schwann, left Los Angeles and tried to get married in Goldfield, Nevada, the town sheriff, upon hearing word, “hunted up the couple, and escorted them to the railroad station, where he ordered them not to appear in Goldfield again.”

Even as late as 1921, when a white woman named Margaret Farr, who worked for the L.A. County Department of Health Services married a Japanese physician, she was forced to resign from her position. “Dr. Farr has been estranged from her family by her marriage,” wrote the Los Angeles Herald. “Her father said last night he would have preferred to see her dead.”

A 1908 article from the Los Angeles Herald. Interracial marriages at sea were common at the time, though rarely recognized by the courts. (Via California Digital Newspaper Collection.)

A 1908 article from the Los Angeles Herald. Interracial marriages at sea were common at the time, though rarely recognized by the courts. (Via California Digital Newspaper Collection.)

Others, however, spoke out against the unjust marriage laws. In 1903, Methodist Bishop J.W. Hamilton of San Francisco scandalized the public by openly declaring that he would officiate at the wedding of any interracial couple that approached him. “Such unions are an illustration of the sweeping away of caste lines, which should occur in the church and which are occurring in the world,” he told the Herald.

At least one California law enforcement official also thought Goto and Baker’s predicament was unfair. Captain of Detectives Tom Murray said at the time, “I did not feel that is was giving the couple a fair deal, inasmuch as they had the marriage certificate signed by Capt. King of San Pedro. While their marriage may have been illegal, the document they produced seemed to show that they were acting in good faith.”

Rather than suffer the indignities and publicity of a public trial, Goto and Baker decided to leave the state of California for Washington, where interracial marriage was legal. On October 13, 1914, the Times wrote: “Permission to leave the State to contract a marriage unlawful in this State is the request that will be made to Police Judge Chambers this morning by Miss Hazel Baker [sic], a handsome young Pasadena woman, and Arthur S. Goto, a young Japanese merchant and university graduate.”

On October 21, 1914, the Morning Oregonian reported that Goto and Baker had been married the previous day in Vancouver, Washington. “Mr. Goto […] dressed in American clothes, wore gold-rimmed glasses, and wrote an excellent hand,” wrote the paper. “The bride was much taller than he, wore a dark dress and long black earrings. Following their marriage by a Justice of the Peace they dined at the Hotel St. Elmo and left for Portland, accompanied by their witness, S. Kubota, who gave his residence as 409 Everett Street.”

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Goto and Baker’s marriage certificate. (Accessed through Washington State Digital Archives, 10-25-14.)

The L.A. Times, upon hearing of the marriage, wrote, “The Gotos are the first couple, Jap and Caucasian, to be remarried, so far as known.”

And what happened to them afterward? Beyond 1914, the trail goes cold; their names no longer appear in newspapers. However, the 1920 U.S. census shows a “Hazel [sic] and Arthur Goto” living in the Bronx, New York City; while the 1930 census lists them as living in “New York.” The Empire State was, after all, was one of nine that never enacted anti-miscegenation laws. There is no indication the pair ever returned to California.

As for the laws that kept them apart, they slowly crumbled and fell.

In 1931, the legal quandary of interracial marriage came up once again in Pasadena, when a white British woman named Marjorie Rogers tried to marry a Filipino man named Salvador Roldan. When they approached the L.A. County Clerk, he rejected their application for a marriage license.

This time the question came down to whether Roldan, a Filipino, was considered part of the “Mongolian” or part of the “Malay” race. In the resulting case, Roldan v. Los Angeles County, it was decided that Roldan and Rogers could marry. However, in 1933, the California Legislature amended the laws to prevent marriage between whites and Filipinos.

In 1947, a black man named Sylvester Davis tried to marry a Mexican-American woman named Andrea Perez, who listed her race as “white.” In the resulting case, Perez v. Sharp (1948), the Supreme Court of California struck down the state’s interracial marriage bans as a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Dissenting Associate Justice John W. Shenk, a former muleskinner, and later master of South Pasadena Masonic Lodge No. 367, wrote, “The institution of matrimony is the foundation of society, and the community at large has an interest in the maintenance of its integrity and purity […] There is authority for the conclusion that the crossing of the primary races leads gradually to retrogression and to eventual extinction of the resultant type unless it is fortified by reunion with the parent stock.”

By contrast, Justice Jesse W. Carter, a prominent liberal on the California Supreme Court, unleashed a blast of moral indignation, quoting a passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf that was similar to California’s own marriage laws. “To bring into issue the correctness of the writings of a madman, a rabble-rouser, a mass-murderer, would be to clothe his utterances with an undeserved aura of respectability and authoritativeness,” he said. “Let us not forget that this was the man who plunged the world into a war in which, for the third time, Americans fought, bled, and died for the truth of the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Sources Cited:

– “Doings at Los Angeles,” Moving Picture World, August 17, 1912.

– “Eddie’s Purity Ordinance: Doors Shattered, Ten Haled into Court,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1912

– “Favors Miscegenation: Startling Declaration by Bishop Hamilton,” Los Angeles Herald, February 28, 1903.

– “Japanese Weds White,” The Morning Oregonian, October 21, 1914

– “Los Angeles Girl Seeks to Marry a Japanese,” Los Angeles Herald, March 16, 1910.

– Statutes of California and Digests of Measures (California: J. Winchester, 1850), 424.

– “White Brides of Japs Prepare to Flee Law,” Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1914.




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