Thursday, May 25, 2017
Getting the Details Right
When breathless news reports mangle the fine points of a breaking story, I become skeptical over the possibility of a hidden agenda muddying the details. Somehow, when I encountered the news clipping concerning the sudden death of a man—A. J. Daugherty—I started getting that same feeling.
The ambush, by four federal immigration inspectors shooting into a plane during touch and go exercises by a student aviator, resulted in the instant death of Arthur James Daugherty on April 30, 1927. The resultant news reports over the next several days were full of discrepancies. Everything from the number of inspectors involved to the number of suspected Chinese immigrants in tow varied, depending on which day the report was published, and where the newspaper was printed.
When the rush to publish outruns the editorial professionalism of accuracy, something has to be at the root of the race. Since I was pretty sure it wouldn't have been on account of any outpouring of sympathy for the student aviator, himself, I thought I'd take a look around to see if I could uncover any other motivations firing up such rabid interest.
The only blip from history that I could recall was a political maneuver which, at its introduction, far predated this 1927 incident—but then, I was never any good at remembering the dates of history. Dates were what made me detest history as a subject in school, and I still recoil from the practice of noting years of occurrences.
Thankfully, in today's world, minute details like dates are what the Internet is for. Why trouble yourself with remembering when such facts can be googled?
With that simple act, my hunch was verified: though it was in 1882 that American president Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, the law was extended through a number of legislative moves until it was finally repealed in 1943. Thus, this news furor in 1927 was in the very midst of an era in which the country's policy was to ban immigration of Chinese laborers (and, ultimately, their families as well).
I had been aware of this law, thanks to presentations by various Bay area genealogists who have been involved with Angel Island immigration station history. What hadn't stuck with me was the date range—and how recent it was. Nor was I aware of any specific operations to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the country, particularly from Mexico. Discovering this news report was not only a shock from the angle of family history—this was, after all, someone from my mother in law's Flowers line in Perry County, Ohio—but an eye opener to the possibilities for underground activity as a counter-movement against this law.
Obviously, once again, researching my own family's history meant delving deeper into the history of my state, my country, and those specific details of immigration history. Genealogy never stands alone nor operates within a vacuum. We are all part of the historic context forming the backdrop to our lifespan. Interwoven with our culture and its events, our lives couldn't possibly be understood without that broader perspective in our research.