Hatton W. Sumners and the 1935 Philippines constitution/ Don Robinson's letters to Dallas about Filipinos./ Archival discoveries

Edward H. Sebesta's picture

I am writing a history of Hatton W. Sumners, U.S. House Rep. for Dallas, Texas for many years. 

He was a white supremacist and perhaps the leading opponent of federal anti-lynching legislation in the United States of America. He had many other racist views of an extreme nature. 

I was quite surprised to find out that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had him write the 1935 constitution for the Philippines. 

Sumners developed this reputation as being some type of great constitutionalist, but basically it was a strategy to maintain white supremacy in the South. Sumners himself in letters connects these two items. His being asked to write the Philippines constitution gave him a reputation here in America as a great constitutionalist and gave his arguments which supported white supremacy based on states' rights and his constitutional theories credibility. 

In this case there is a blowback into the United States in that colonialism abroad is used to support white supremacy back in the United States. 

Additionally there is a letter from a Don Robinson to a local prominent individual Saner which was copied to Sumners dated 1924. It is a negative letter about the Philippines and its residents. Hatton W. Sumners and Saner met to discuss it. 

I am posting this for several reasons. 

1. To alert scholars of Philippine history that I am writing up Sumners lengthy racist history. It might shed some light on the writing of the constitution in 1935. 

2. I would like to know if scholars of Philippine history have commentary regarding the constitution of 1935 and racism. 

3. I would like to know if Sumners is memorialized on the landscape in the Philippines in any way. 

4. To share copies of this archival material with scholars.

Given some preliminary feedback we have gotten from scholars on Philippine matters we are going to be looking in archives in Dallas for more materials related to Don Robinson and the Philippines and Hatton Sumners. 

Hi. I am from the Philippines and is a researcher on Philippine cultural politics.

Thanks for this interesting discussion board and I will definitely look forward to your updates on this study.

As I am not familiar with the inner workings on the development of the 1935 Constitution, I can't answer the question you raised with regards to commentaries. It might be good for you to ask the constitutionalists which are working for the University of the Philippines College of Law to answer your question.

What I can tell you is Sumners is not memorialized in the Philippine political landscape in any way, not even for us who study Philippine politics.

Hi Edward, my name's Ren Capucao, a nurse historian at the University of Virginia. I find your research fascinating, as I am studying the social construction of race contextualized through the Filipino nurse diaspora and have some oral histories of Filipino nurses in the US during the 1930's. I intend to conduct research in the Philippines on a Fulbright between 2021-2022 to parse out the transnational history. I would love to view copies of archival materials that you find. Feel free to reach me via email (rcc9vq@virginia.edu).

In doing some research we have found that John C. Saner had an investment in Don Robinson's plantation in the Philippines. We have gone as far as we can without visiting archives in person. Given the current shutdown we are halted. However, we have compiled some key words of locations and people and will be visiting archives when this current shutdown is over.

Also, there is a box of materials related to Sumners and the Philippines. I reviewed about 40 to 50 boxes and only looked at the Philippines box quickly. Given the interest, I am going to do a 100% photo documentation of the contents.

Oddly enough there isn't much Philippines material even though we have indications he had some ongoing interest. However, an additional large collection of Sumners materials has been acquired by the archive and I donated one thousand dollars for the cost of its organization and archiving. Maybe something will come up.

There is a huge amount of the material Sumners left and so this is a side effort while I go through everything else. I will provide updates to this posting.

Please let me know if any of the documents you see that pertain to the period 1909-1920 that is very thinly covered at the U. S. National Archives in College Park, as I discovered when I was there last summer. I am researching civil unrest in Manila after its "pacification," but any mention of racial attitudes towards the indigenous population or (external) immigrant populations (1910-1947) would be welcome. I plan to return to the Archives (and the Library of Congress, which is very rich in difficult to find sources) when I can, and am happy to assist with your project there if needed. Best, Marc Jason Gilbert, mgilbert@hpu.edu

I forgot to mention that I would very much like to see a copy of the Don Robinson letter!

Many thanks for your post. Marc Jason Gilbert (mgilbert@hpu.edu)

Incidentally there is a descendant of Robinson who has some type of nostalgic project related to the Yakan Plantation. Interesting parallel to Americans having nostalgic feelings for plantations in the American South. https://www.facebook.com/bossymissymedia/

Hi all. I'm Michele Sullivan, to whom Mr Sebesta is referring. I appreciate his bringing the Yakan Plantation Project name to this group. Im a journalist of 40 years, so Im used to telling a story from all sides, which is what I am doing. If you have any interest or expertise in American colonialism in the Philippines, the Yakan tribe, Japanese Fifth Column activities in southern Mindanao, the Japanese occupation of southern Mindanao, particularly Zamboanga, pelase do contact me. I am posting a general informational piece about the project on this network as well.
BTW, my one-the-ground research time on Basilan (I have been living there) was cut short by COVID obviously. In the meantime I am working on food relief efforts there. If you are interested in donating, please do message me. $20 buys 25 k of rice - enough to feed a family of 4 for a month. We are also providing canned and dried fish and other staples. These goods go to the descendants of the Yakan clan who saved my relatives lives during WWII.
As with every story, the one of Don Robinson and Yakan Plantation is multifaceted. As Mr. Sebesta suggested, he took advantage of the system and the people. But the families I have met and interviewed who knew and worked for him (and several very old people 95+ knew him first-hand) have very kind things to say about him. He is still very well-remembered there in a positive way. I will return to Basilan for at least 2 more months and then travel to Zamboanga and conduct at least 3 months of research there. It's a remarkable story and quite a ride personally. Whatever you're into... war, famine, love, murder, spying, sacrifice, plagues of mice and locusts, first -hand accounts of WWII battles... the Yakan Plantation Project has it all. And every bit of it is true.