2/15/17

An Unsung Hero Championed Delta Chinese Right to Attend White School


A previous post on this blog described the legal proceedings in the1920s case in which two daughters of a Mississippi Delta Chinese grocer, Jue Gong and his wife, Katherine, were removed from attending a white school in Rosedale in 1924 because Chinese were not considered caucasian. The school board was sued with a writ of mandamus to reinstate the two daughters in school on grounds of the 14th Amendment calling for equal protection. The school board reversed its decision but it was promptly overruled by the Mississippi Supreme Court.  The parents obtained legal assistance and appealed the decision all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1927, but to no avail, as it upheld the lower court.

Most accounts of this case of school segregation of Chinese in Mississippi have dealt only with the legal issues and proceedings, but a new book, Water Tossing Boulders, by journalist Adrienne Berard provides a richly detailed description of the social and cultural context of the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s. This well-researched study brings the people and the community to life as Berard researched the background to set the stage and analyze the complex interplay between racial discrimination against blacks, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the forced labor of black convicts to build levees, the floods that destroyed the cotton crop that was a mainstay of the Delta economy, how Chinese came to settle in the Delta as early as the 1870s, the intermediary status of Chinese grocery families placing them between blacks and whites, and the mass exodus of blacks from the Delta to the north to escape racism and find employment. Her book, which reads like a novel at times, makes you feel as if you were right there observing events as they unfolded from 1924-1927.


Given the economic disaster in the Delta, everyone suffered.  Chinese grocers, dependent on black cotton plantation workers, lost customers in the downturn who could not afford to pay for food. One wonders, then, how Jeu Gong and Katherine were able to pay a lawyer to file a lawsuit.  In fact, they  could not afford to pay, but they found an unsung hero, Earl Brewer, who rose from a hard scrabble life to become the governor of Mississippi before being soundly defeated later in a bid to become a Senator. Brewer was a progressive who believed the Chinese were unfairly treated and decided to represent them pro bono.  
Although the appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1927 failed, probably because Brewer turned the case over to an inexperienced attorney, Berard's book provides us with a better understanding of the many interacting factors affecting race relations in the Delta. Without Brewer's advocacy on the behalf of the Gong Lum family, the case would probably never have been filed.

2/12/17

How To Rid Your Town of Chinamen: Tacoma and Truckee Methods



      Chinese immigrants arrived in Tacoma, Washington in the 1870s.  Many had worked on the Transcontinental Railroad and when it was completed in 1869, they were unemployed but moved to the Pacific Northwest to help build the North Pacific Railroad.  Others worked on farms, in fishing, and in saw mills. From their arrival, migrants faced discrimination in a land that was considered by many at the time to be "white only." Anti-Chinese sentiment further increased during the economic depression of the decade of the 1870s.


In Tacoma, anti-Chinese whites adopted an extreme way in 1885 to deal with Chinese.  They simply expelled them from the city overnight.  Chinese were ordered to leave the city of Tacoma by November 1, 1885 or face being removed by force. About 400 Chinese complied and left their homes and their livelihood out of fear and intimidation.

On November 3, 1885 several hundred men, led by Mayor Weisbach and other city officials forced the remaining 200 Chinese onto a train bound for Portland. They then burned the Chinese settlements to the ground. Chinese buildings, houses and communities were destroyed in the following days.

This "solution" to the Chinese presence became known as the "Tacoma Method" and was employed in other western communities such as Eureka, California, to forcibly remove their Chinese populations.





The "Truckee Method"

         When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, about 1,400 now out-of-work Chinese laborers went to Truckee to seek new jobs building railroads through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Within a period of a few months, one third of Truckee's population was Chinese which led  to some white men forming a vigilante committee called the Caucasian League.  In June, 1876, a small group of white men attacked several Chinese woodcutters outside of town. They set fire to the woodcutters' cabins, and when the Chinese ran out the attackers shot and wounded several of them. One of the Chinese men died the next day. Seven men were arrested and stood trial, but in spite of direct testimony by two of the defendants against the other five all were acquitted after the jury deliberated for just nine minutes.

A Second Truckee Chinatown Across the River
 
    Little more than a year after moving fire once again raged through the new Chinatown, destroying half of the newly built homes and stores. There is no record of any loss of life due to the fire, but again the Chinese were forced to rebuild their community.
    Frustrated by the resilience and perseverance of the Chinese, in 1885 Charles McGlashan formed the Truckee Anti-Chinese Boycotting Committee which adopted the following resolution: "We recognize the Chinese as an unmitigated curse to the Pacific Coast and a direct threat to the bread and butter of the working class."
    They further resolved that all merchants in town should boycott any Chinese who comes to them either for employment or for goods, in hopes of literally starving the Chinese out of Truckee.  
      Over the first two months of 1886, McGlashan and other town leaders succeeded in getting every business in town to refuse to sell anything to the Chinese. As food and other supplies dwindled in their community, many Chinese had no other recourse than to leave town.         By the end of February the "Truckee Method" of forcing the Chinese away was declared a success by its leaders.  However, records indicate that although the boycott leaders claimed to have rid the town of Chinese, a small group remained.

 

 

 

About Me