Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“What to Do With Ghum Wah?”

[A Bend of the River article]

In the March 27, 1905 Toledo Blade, a story ran under the headline, “What to Do With Ghum Wah?” Part of that article describes the problem:

“Ghum Wah, of Toledo, was found guilty of being a Chinese person unlawfully in the country, and was ordered to be deported some time ago. Judge Taylor, of the United States district court, Saturday, confirmed that order giving the custody of Ghum Wah to the United States marshal, with instructions to return the celestial to the Chinese empire with all convenient dispatch.”

Yet the case was not as cut and dried as it seemed. Colonel Isaac H. Marrow, “Chinese inspector for Ohio,” wanted Wah to be held on forgery charges and tried in the United States. “It is alleged Wah secured the papers of a dead …man and changed the photograph and his own identity.” Marrow, a colonel in the Civil War, wanted Wah to serve time here, then, “I will see to it that a marshal is at the prison gates ready to take him back to China, where he belongs.”

In 1882, Congress passed a bill known as the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” Under this law, Chinese immigration to the United States was stopped for ten years. When it resumed, there were many restrictions applied that slowed Chinese citizens from entering the country. The Act providing for “Chinese inspectors,” responsible for keeping unwanted Chinese out of the country. “[S]tate boards or commissions enforced immigration law with direction from U.S. Treasury Department officials. At the Federal level, U.S. Customs Collectors at each port of entry collected the head tax from immigrants while ‘Chinese Inspectors’ enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act.” []

One of the ways Chinese could get around the exclusion policies was by assuming the name, papers, and identity of a Chinese already residing here who had died or returned to China. The Ghum Wah mentioned in the Blade story in 1905 may have actually had a different birth name. In the Census of 1900, there is a Ghum Wah working in a laundry on Cherry Street. Same Ghum Wah, or one man borrowing another’s name?

Whatever his name actually was, Ghum Wah was arrested in February of 1905. On the 25th, his bail was set at $700.00. On March 25, a judge ordered “that a “U.S. Marshal deport defendant to the Empire of China.” [Blade, March 30, 1905] Wah pleaded not guilty, but it is not clear whether to the charge of forgery, being in the country illegally, or both. But the court apparently decided to deport Wah immediately, rather than try him here on the forgery charge. In any event, the Blade reported on April 20, 1905 that Ghum Wah and another Chinese man, No Wing, of Cleveland, were escorted to Washington by two United States Marshals. They were then to be moved to Norfolk, Virginia, from where they would be shipped home to China. On June 19, the court received word that the deportation had been carried out

We have no further trace of Ghum Wah. What we don’t know about him could fill a book. Did he stay in China, or join the revolution that rocked China only a few years later in 1911? We cannot say. We do know that for a few weeks in 1905 he was the focus of a court case in Toledo. “What to do with Ghum Wah?” We might as well ask, “Whatever became of Ghum Wah?”

[I would like to thank Marianne C. Mussett, librarian for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio--Western Division (Toledo, Ohio), for her help in digging Gum Wah’s files out of a vault in the Toledo Federal Courthouse. Not an easy task!]

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