The racial history of the Jim Crow South is often treated as a black and white issue but, as local author Addie Berard recently discovered, at least one of its most compelling stories falls outside of that binary.
Jeu Gong Lum was a Chinese man who immigrated to Canada and later the United States in the early 20th century. He ultimately landed in Mississippi, and it is there that he, his wife, and their three children began the complicated process of navigating their role in a largely black-and-white community.
The Lum's ultimate claim to fame came about when their legal battle to allow their children to attend the local all-white school was eventually elevated all the way to the Supreme Court, making it the first school segregation case to be heard by that body, decades before the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
Despite this remarkable feat, the Lum's story was mostly lost to history before Addie Berard, who has a background in investigative journalism, stumbled across it while researching her own family's roots in the Mississippi Delta.
The basic information she discovered inspired Berard to further research and write the Lum's story in full, and her book, Water Tossing Boulders: How A Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South, was published last fall.
Berard will be giving a free talk about the book at 2 p.m. on April 12 at the Stryker Center. In addition to offering more details about the story and insight into her research process, she will also discuss the interesting implications of this story for this regional as a whole.
"Though this isn't specifically a Virginia story, the key point is that immigrants are vital to the narrative of the South -- a population that is often overlooked when we talk about the history of Southern race relations," Berard said.
Williamsburg Regional Library consists of the James City County Library, the Stryker Center, and the Williamsburg Library and serves more than 85,000 people in the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County.