This Day in History

March 28, 1898: Wong Kim Ark Wins Citizenship Case

Time Periods: Industrial Revolution: 1877 - 1899
Themes: Asian American, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights
Wong Kim Ark | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

Wong Kim Ark, in a photograph taken from a 1904 U.S. immigration document. Source: Creative Commons.

On March 28, 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, holding that children born in the United States, even to parents not eligible to become citizens, were nonetheless citizens themselves under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants who were barred from ever becoming U.S. citizens under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong Kim Ark was denied re-entry to the United States after a trip to China, on the grounds that the son of a Chinese national could never be a U.S. citizen. Wong sued the federal government, resulting in the Supreme Court’s seminal decision that the government could not deny citizenship to anyone born in the United States. [This text was adapted from Asian Americans Advancing Justice and PBS’s “Becoming American: The Chinese Experience.”]

Learn more about this case at the Asian American Heroes website (PDF) and read the 1882 Exclusion Act at OurDocuments.gov.

We highly recommend the related text, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones.