Sixty-two Inland Empire students got a good look inside a courtroom—and inside the racist policies of early 19th-century California—Sept. 21.
They were brought to Riverside’s Historic Courthouse to see a live reenactment of the 1918 case People v. Harada. The reenactment was held in the same exact courtroom the case was litigated in.
Following the reenactment, attorneys and judges discussed the court’s role as an independent branch of government, encouraged students to be independent thinkers and presented a teacher of the year award.
The suit involved the due process rights of a Japanese-American family that had bought a house at 3356 Lemon St., just a mile north from the courthouse.
Jukichi Harada was a Japanese immigrant who ran a restaurant across the street from Riverside’s courthouse. He lived in a time of anti-Japanese racism, even before the outbreak of World War II. The Naturalization Act of 1906 excluded non-white immigrants from being naturalized into American citizens. In 1913, the California Alien Land Law was passed to prohibit immigrants ineligible for citizenship from owning land. He lived in a boarding room with his wife and five children, one of whom died from diphtheria due to the cramped living conditions.
Harada used his money to purchase a house on Lemon Street for three of his underage children, who were natural-born citizens.
He was prosecuted by the California Attorney General, Ulysses Webb, who had pushed the Alien Land Law through the state legislature. Webb brought two charges against Harada: breaking the Alien Land Law, and committing fraud in his purchase of the property.
Webb lost his case, and the house remained in the family until it was donated to the Riverside Museum in 2004.
The court ruling did not invalidate the Alien Land Law, but it showed a loophole.
The case reenactment was planned by Bryan Reid for the American Board of Trial Advocates’ James Otis lecture series. Last year, the program reenacted a pool desegregation case that set precedent for the end of racial segregation.
Attending students said the presentation was a good introduction to the legal system.
“I did research on the case, but it was really insightful as to what happens in the court,” said Helena Hernandez, a senior at the Riverside Steam Academy.
“How much education do you need to be a judge?” another student asked her friend as she left the courtroom.
The story of the Harada House was told by Mark Rawitsch in “The House on Lemon Street,” a book published in 2012 by the University Press of Chicago. Free copies of the book were provided to students, courtesy of ABOTA. Rawitsch had spent 40 years researching for the book, and spent between three and four years writing it.
The Harada victory caused many other Japanese-American immigrants to purchase their own houses through their children, but this practice was short-lived, Rawitsch said at the reenactment. California amended the California Alien Land Law in 1920 to close the loophole Jukichi Harada had discovered, Rawitsch said.
During World War II, the Harada family was forced to live in the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona. Jukichi and his wife both died there. Their home was kept up by a regular at their diner.
The Alien Land Law stayed in effect until the California Supreme Court invalidated it in 1952.
Retired Riverside Superior Judge Jackson Lucky played the role of Riverside Superior Judge Hugh Craig.
Following the reenactment, Lucky stressed the importance of independent judges and encouraged students to remove their biases.
Judges should be viewed as neutral and non-political, and not as being allied with any party, Lucky said.
“What I want you to do, is that you look past the people, and you look at the facts, and you try to draw good conclusions,” Lucky said.
The students were treated to lunch on the rooftop of Riverside City Hall.
There, CAL-ABOTA President Steven Geeting presented Steve Sanchez with the ABOTA Teacher of the Year Award.
Naomi Harada, Jukichi Harada’s granddaughter, spoke with attorney Neil Okazaki.
Naomi said her grandfather’s determination to give his family their own house was not unique to him, but was a trait that most immigrants have. She also said that people need to continue standing up for their rights, and said recent bias against immigrants was one reason she decided to speak.
“You do need to stand up for your rights. That it is something that, unfortunately, is neverending. It is something we all must keep vigilant about,” Naomi said.