Alternate History Historical Fiction

Legally White: A 1908 Court Case Reversal

In January 1908, a trial in Minnesota decided whether John Svan, an outspoken activist and socialist from Finland, could become a naturalized United States citizen or not. At the time, citizenship was legally defined only for “Whites” and “Blacks.”

A district prosecutor maintained that Finnish immigrants were Mongol, or “Yellow,” and thus not eligible for citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Svan eventually won his court case, legally proving that Finnish people were White.

Here’s my take on what would have happened if John Svan had lost his court case to become “legally White”—only adding to the conversation of where the concept of “supremacy” is coming from if “whiteness” is purely a construct.