By Mabel Lum Lew
Note from Munson Kwok: Walter U. Lum (________), (1882-1961), was an American Chinese pioneer and civic leader during the first sixty years of the twentieth century in the western United States and specifically the San Francisco Bay Area. Among his most notable achievements are the co-founding of the civic organization, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (________) and the founding and running of the famous San Francisco based Chinese language newspaper, The Chinese Times (______). He was Grand President of C.A.C.A. fifteen. times. In a life of service to the Chinese American community, he constantly fought discrimination against Chinese, particularly in U.S. immigration practices and laws. His daughter Emma is recognized as an outstanding lawyer and an American Chinese Woman of professional achievement.
Mabel Lew (_______) is the eldest of seven children of Walter Lum. She resides in Inglewood, California. She desires that selected aspects of her father’s history be told because his contributions are an important part of the history of Chinese in California. She tells the story as she knows it from a “personalized” point-of-view. Excerpts from her writings follow.
Walter U. Lum’s parents, Lum Guey Yue and Yan Lan, came from a village in Sunwui County within the Sze Yup area of Canton China with their daughter Lum Choy Fung who was about five years old. They came here on a steamer, probably in the 1860’s, and landed in San Francisco. A brother, Lum Guey Yee,’ who was in Campanche, sent for the family to join him in the gold mining town. The two Lum brothers operated the general grocery store in Campanche selling Chinese dry food stuffs to the Chinese farmers and to both White and Chinese gold prospectors. Business prospered until the Sacramento River and its tributaries overflowed and flooded the crops; then the Chinese farmers could not pay for their groceries. Since the Lums had extended too much credit, the two brothers lost their store.
Ed. note: “Campanche” may have been the old town of Comanche.
Early years: hardships of youth in an 1890 American Chinatown
In 1879 the Lums moved back to San Francisco Chinatown and opened another Chinese grocery store. Here Walter was born, the fourth child and the only son. By 1890 Walter was studying in the homes of private tutors and at home. He had both Chinese and American Tutors. A main subject was the constant improvement of his English vocabulary. His parents would not dare to let him go to school with all kinds of students because he dressed so differently from the American boys. Chinese boys had to wear a queue and a pair of black pajamas. The bottoms of the legs were tied in small bows. Often the Chinese boys were teased by the mobs who pulled their pig tails when they passed by. They would call them, chanting in unison “Chink, Chong, Chinaman, sitting on the fence, trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.” Once Walter walked by one of these mobs, he tried to ignore them. He turned around and the hoodlums threw· a piece of rock at his forehead which left a big lifelong scar. He would not fight with them because he was so gentle.
Marriage and Family
In 1899 he met his wife, Lee Gum Yung ( 1-1:’l) , known throughout her life as an extremely kind woman. She was 14 years old and a neighbor. They met when Walter’s older sister Kay Yoke was married and Gum Yung was a wedding guest. They sat together at the wedding banquet. Lee Gum Yung fell very much in love with Walter who was seventeen years old at that time. She was an abandoned orphan who was raised by her older -sister. Walter loved her and. they were married according to the Chinese ritual. It was not a blind marriage arranged by a match maker. In those days it was unusual for couples to be in love before they were married and to be able to choose as Walter and his wife did. His wife was a good wife to him, helping him to save most of his earnings for hard times. She gave birth to and efficiently managed a household of seven children: Mabel, Alice, Lily, James, Emma, Arthur, and Victoria. She died at the young age of 44.
Formation of C.A.C.A.
By the mid 1900’s, Walter Lum was working for Look Yuen Bing’s Sing Chong Bazaar on Grant Avenue and California Street as a clerk. On his day off, he met with other young men_ in the only available meeting place, a pool room. He talked about his future and that of others as citizens of this country. Since he had no brother of his own, he wanted to unite all the Chinese men, born in the United States, in brotherhood and form a club to protect them from the abuses of the times,. In 1904 Walter and his closest friends, Ng Gunn and Lum Joe Gay, reactivated the Native Sons of the Golden State. In 1912 the Chinese groups in Oakland and Los Angeles joined with the San Francisco group to expand the organization. By 1915, a large number of out-of-state Chinese had become interested. So a new charter was taken out and the name changed to Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A.). Walter Lum was elected first Grand President.
Originally founded for purposes of fraternity, fellowship, mutual protection and death benefits, the modern C.A. C.A. is usually considered a leading civic, service, and social organization in an American-Chinese community. The C.A.C.A. is now also known as a supporter of educational activities in Chinese language and culture and a champion of civil rights. An early trip by Walter Lum on behalf of American Chinese civil rights is noted.
Many anti-Chinese state and federal laws existed in this period around the 1900’s. In particular, there were many discriminatory immigration laws. For example, Jaws forbade Chinese families from joining their men here and permitted the deportation of Chinese because of minor ailments and other trivial causes. Before 1910, Walter Lum and Wong Bock Yue, Walter Lum’s brother-in-law, went to Sacramento to argue for fairer laws. Having been turned away by legislators there, they then traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk to officials there, again with limited success. These frustrating efforts with legislators and middle-level officials led Walter Lum to make the effort of approaching directly the American President during the first term of Woodrow Wilson in order to plead the case of injustices against American Chinese.
Walter Lum as newsman
In 1912, shortly after the Chinese Republic was established, Walter Lum went to work for the Young China newspaper for several years. He was a reporter, translator, and finally editor for the Chinese newspaper company, which was founded by Sun Yat-Sen and was quite pro-Kuomintang. Still, this political paper was a place for Walter to gain the experience for a journalistic career which was to extend over 35 years.
Ed. note: The next fifteen years of W. Lum ‘s life are dramatic and historically interesting. Mabel Lew’s narrative will resume in a subsequent issue.