Jee Gam traveled to San Francisco from China in 1863 at age 14. He joined the First Congregationalist Church in Oakland in 1870 and often worked as a court interpreter. Eventually in 1895 Jee Gam became the first Chinese American ordained as a Congregationalist minister.
Jee Gam used his influence and access to Protestant resources to advocate for Chinese American political rights. In speeches, sermons, private letters, and public writings, he championed Chinese American suffrage and combated Chinese exclusion.
Jee Gam based his arguments for political rights on a vision of Christianity that emphasized egalitarianism and universal brotherhood. In an era when many Americans believed that the Chinese were too “heathenish” to genuinely convert to Christianity, Jee Gam insisted on the religion’s inclusivity. “I am a Chinaman and a Christian,” he wrote in 1892. “I am not any less Chinese for being a follower of Christ…. I am in some sense also an American, for I have lived in America almost twice as long as in China.” He went on to call Chinese exclusion “un-American, barbarous and inhuman. It is unchristian, for it is contrary to the teaching of Christ.”
He died in 1910. Chinese immigrants received the right to become U.S. citizens in 1943.
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