5/14/14

Chinese To The South 4. Will They Stay?

       It is no surprise that the early Chinese immigrants in the middle 19th century arrived and mostly settled on the west coast and that some moved toward the Rocky mountains when Chinese were recruited to work on the building of the transcontinental railroad in the mid 1860s. What is not so easy for many to comprehend is why and how small numbers of Chinese gravitated to the Deep South, especially Mississippi and Georgia, by the 1870s.
 Southern solution for  Chinese :problem'
       One key factor was the end of slavery in 1865, which posed a serious threat to the availability of cheap labor for the South.  Many freed slaves became part of the Great Migration to the large cities of the North such as Chicago.  At the Memphis Convention of cotton plantation owners from several states in July, 1869, a proposal was made to recruit Chinese workers, especially because with the recent completion of the transcontinental railroad in May, 1869, many Chinese were no longer needed in railroad work although some did find work on smaller regional rail lines.  Chinese workers were viewed as a source of cheap labor to replace blacks in the cotton and rice fields of the South. In Augusta, Georgia, Chinese in the north were recruited to fill the need for cheap labor to help build the Augusta Canal to supply hydroelectric power for their textile mills.
New York Times, Aug. 17, 1869
           Other parts of the South also showed interest in recruiting Chinese labor.  Savannah was receiving 14 Chinese to work on rice plantations across the Savannah river in South Carolina.
May 21, 1869




1874. Chinese coming to Savannah.
      In addition, there were some objections among townspeople about bringing Chinese.  Fears that hordes of Chinese would overrun communities arose such that Augusta recruiters tried to reassure residents that there were "not more than thirty Chinamen there."
Augusta Chronicle, 1886
     Blacks, who were likely to be displaced by Chinese, showed both curiosity and hostility toward these foreigners when they first arrived in their Chinese attire, queues, and strange sounding language. An editorial in a Vicksburg, Mississippi paper reflecting on the expulsion of Chinese from California in the 1880s. observed that if negroes are duped to make an exodus to the frozen North, the South will have the Chinese to replace them.


        However, once Chinese came to the South, they did not take well to plantation work in the fields, and generally preferred to open their own businesses, mostly grocery general stores and hand laundries. However, they were not well accepted and were sometimes victimized by assaults and robberies. In 1900 whites in Rosedale, Mississippi, ordered Chinese merchants to leave the country within five days, leading the Chinese to seek a meeting with the state governor who promised to protect their rights.

Rosedale, MS. crisis with Chinese merchants. Aug. 16, 1900  
Atlanta, 1913

Augusta, Georgia Sept. 17, 1910






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