LA City Leaders Observe 'Chinese Massacre' Anniversary

Los Angeles city officials gathered on Sunday to mark the 140th anniversary of the city’s 1871 Chinese Massacre, in which 18 Chinese were killed by a 500-strong mob. From The Los Angeles Times:

The convictions of seven men charged in the massacre were overturned because of a legal flaw in their indictment.

A decade later, in 1882, the U.S. enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act to prohibit Chinese immigration and prevent Chinese immigrants already living in the country from becoming naturalized citizens. The U.S. Senate earlier this month passed a resolution apologizing for that and other anti-Chinese discriminatory laws.

Los Angeles elected officials and community leaders planned to observe the anniversary of the massacre Sunday. El Pueblo Commission member David Louie, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Assemblyman Mike Eng, among others, were to gather at 8 a.m. at the Placita de Dolores, by the big bell, at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument across the street from Union Station.

Also at the LA Times, Larry Harnisch excavated an 1883 account of the massacre. (Be warned that, as Harnisch notes, some of the report’s ethnic terminology is very much of the 19th Century.)

It was just twelve years ago yesterday, or October 23rd, 1871, that the Chinese massacre took place in this city, and for a time it did seem as if the mob’s desire for blood could never be satisfied. The difficulty arose from a quarrel between two Chinamen in Nigger Alley, which was then, as it is now, the headquarters for the Chinese people of this city. The men both claimed a moon-eyed beauty, lately imported from the Celestial Empire, and from angry words the two finally came to blows. The disorder naturally called the police officers to the scene, and after much parleying and an attempted arrest, the highbinders finally fired at the officers, wounding both seriously. The motley Mexican, American and European population had for a long time cherished the worst feelings towards the encroaching Mongolians, and this act was quite enough to rouse their passion. In a few minutes a large crowd gathered on the streets and in the wildest rage rushed upon Chinatown. Their first victim was an elderly, inoffensive Chinaman, whom they seized and dragged headlong through the streets, beating and abusing him at every step, until they reached the corner of Temple and New High streets, where a rope was hastily put around his neck and he was summarily hauled up.

See also an investigation of the Chinese Massacre published in LA Weekly earlier this year, which notes that 500 people represented a tenth of Los Angeles’ population at the time, and two wounded policemen a third of its entire force.

When word of the massacre reached the outside world, the reaction was universal horror. In the East, citizens asked what sorts of ghouls had taken up residence on the West Coast. Turning its gaze from heathen lands, the Methodist Conference started raising funds for missionary work in Los Angeles.

Frontier apologists blamed the massacre on the “dregs” of California society, an assortment of thugs and highwaymen who slouched into town every fall from the mines in the north and the lawless Mexican territory to the south.

“American hoodlum and Mexican greaser, Irish tramp and French communist all joined to murder and dispatch the foe,” wrote poet and historian A.J. Wilson.

The truth was different. While the looting and murder were carried out mostly by hoodlums, the deeds required the tacit approval and occasional intervention of the town’s elite. What’s more, the vast majority of those responsible could not have escaped punishment without a legal cover-up.


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