Dalip Singh Saund, a Man to Remember, to Honor, and to Emulate -Part II

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Part two of a three-part series

This series of three articles introduces the life and legacy of Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian-American, Indian-American, and Sikh elected to the United States Congress.  February 2014 a documentary short about Congressman Saund is scheduled to be released.


One evening I spoke at the Unitarian Church in Hollywood, and at the end of the meeting a young man came up to me, introduced himself as Emil J. Kosa, said he was an artist, and invited me to visit his home sometime. He said his mother and father were students of world politics and greatly interested in India…I was introduced to his parents and during the course of conversation Mrs. Kosa told me that when she was returning from Europe a few years before with her daughter she had met a young Indian student who was going to study fruit canning in the United States. I had no knowledge of any other Indian student besides myself who had been even remotely interested in this field. We compared notes and soon found that we had been passengers on the same boat, the S.S. Philadelphia, in 1920. Mrs. Kosa had been my shipboard friend, but her then eleven-year-old daughter Marian was now a beautiful and talented student of U.C.L.A.” D. S. Saund, fromCongressman from India


Dalip Singh Saund had met his future wife on board the SS Philadelphia when she was 11 and he was 20; he took little notice of her then, but 7 years later, he was serendipitously reunited with her family. Dalip and Marian were married the next year.
Dalip-Singh-Saund-Article-2-2At this point, Dalip had worked in farming, both as a foreman in a cotton field, and as a partner in a lettuce field. He continued his hobby of public speaking, honing his skills as an active member of Toastmasters. Dalip spoke frequently, particularly about his hero Mahatma Gandhi and India’s movement toward independence. And he fully immersed himself in local political activities, joining and attending meetings of the Democratic Central Committee.  Locally he became known as Doc Saund.

Dalip and Marian had three children, Dalip Singh Saund, Jr; Julia; and Eleanor. Marian’s strong allergic reaction to the pollens of the Imperial Valley meant that she and the children lived in the family home in Los Angeles, while Dalip spent years in farming (enduring both triumph and failure), ultimately transitioning into a successful agricultural fertilizer business.
Dalip-Singh-Saund-Article-2-3And yet, nagging at Dalip was the fact that he was not eligible to become an American citizen. With others, he formed the Indian Association of America, with the intention to reverse that law with a special bill in Congress. The association built coalitions among Indians in California and New York, and ultimately persuaded two Congressional representatives (Clare Booth Luce and Emanuel Celler) who worked several years to see the passage of the Luce-Celler Act in 1946, signed by President Truman. Dalip immediately applied for and became a citizen.

In 1952, Dalip was elected a Judge in Imperial County and applied an even fairness in his duties, firming his reputation as an American citizen and knowledgeable of the law. In 1956, the longtime Republican Congressman from the district decided to retire; and to the surprise of many, Judge Saund put his name on the ballot.
Dalip-Singh-Saund-Article-2-4The Congressional election of 1956 in California District 29 was hotly contested, and nationally covered since the two candidates were both highly unusual and accomplished. The Republican ticket was represented by Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, an aviatrix and WWII heroine who had been the first woman to break the sound barrier. She was also quite wealthy and well connected to the Republican establishment. Judge Saund was the Democratic candidate; he held a PhD, was a successful businessman and an effective local community leader. Judge Saund’s family and friends engaged a grassroots campaign, while Mrs. Odlum spent five times the funds to fly from speech to speech.

In the ultimate voter decision, Judge Dalip Singh Saund was elected with a margin of over 3000 votes, and became the first Asian-American, the first Indian-American, and the first Sikh to be elected to Congress.

Next: Judge Saund goes to Washington

For further information about this article and the documentary, please contact Anastasia Walsh at [email protected]. The documentary is the first of a series and part of the Asian Pacific American Members of Congress History Project.  This program is produced by the Heritage Series and their production partners Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society (USCHS).

Your tax-deductible donation to this project will support building a correlated curriculum for junior high and high school students. Please visit the USCHS site: https://uschs20398.thankyou4caring.org/pages/donation-form-apa

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