A Chinese Immigrant Gets His California Law License, 125 Years Later : Code Switch Hong Yen Chang was denied the chance to practice law in California more than a century ago because of his race. This week, the California Supreme Court posthumously granted him a law license.
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A Chinese Immigrant Gets His California Law License, 125 Years Later

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A Chinese Immigrant Gets His California Law License, 125 Years Later

A Chinese Immigrant Gets His California Law License, 125 Years Later

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Maybe it's true that justice delayed is justice denied. But supporters of a 19th-century resident of California will take what they can get. In 1890, the California Supreme Court denied a Chinese immigrant's application to the State Bar. One-hundred twenty-five years later, the court reversed that decision, as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Hong Yen Chang was sent to the United States from his native China in 1872 to be groomed as a diplomat, a bridge between East and West. His training took him through Andover, Yale, Columbia Law School. Gabriel Chin teaches at the UC Davis School of Law.

GABRIEL CHIN: So he really was about as well-integrated as one could be into the establishment at the time.

GONZALES: Charming and well-connected, Chang became the first Chinese-American lawyer in this country when he was admitted to the New York Bar in 1888. He came to California, where he hoped to serve the growing Chinese community of San Francisco. But the state Supreme Court here, citing both federal and state laws barring non-citizens from becoming lawyers, denied Chang's bid to join the Bar. Professor Gabriel Chin.

CHIN: Hong Yen Chang symbolized all of the people whose ambitions, whose dreams, whose careers were cut off because of their race.

GONZALES: Chin and Asian-Pacific-American law students at UC Davis spearheaded a four-year campaign to get the state Supreme Court to reverse its earlier decision. In their ruling the California justices said, it is past time to acknowledge that the discriminatory exclusion of Chang from the State Bar of California was a grievous wrong.

ROCHELLE CHONG: The family of Hong Yen Chang is absolutely thrilled.

GONZALES: Rochelle Chong is Chang's grand-niece.

CHONG: It only took 125 years for the Supreme Court of California to decide that he's qualified to practice law (laughter). We are absolutely thrilled.

GONZALES: Hong Yen Chang died in Berkeley in 1926 after a career in diplomacy and banking. He never practiced law in California. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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