Chinese massacre of 1871 (Los Angeles)

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The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a racially motivated riot on October 24, 1871, when a mob of over 500 men entered Los Angeles' Chinatown to attack, rob and murder Chinese residents of the city.[1] The riots took place on Calle de los Negros (Street of the Negroes), also referred to as "Nigger Alley", which later became part of Los Angeles Street. A total of 18 Chinese immigrants were systematically killed by the mob, making the so-called "Chinatown War" the largest incident of mass lynching in American history.

Riot and massacre[edit]

The riot and massacre were allegedly triggered by the killing of Robert Thompson, a local rancher, who was caught in the cross-fire during a gun battle between two Chinese factions. This fight was part of a longstanding feud over the abduction of a Chinese woman named Yut Ho.[2]

The dead Chinese in Los Angeles were hanging at three places near the heart of the downtown business section of the city; from the wooden awning over the sidewalk in front of a carriage shop; from the sides of two “prairie schooners” parked on the street around the corner from the carriage shop; and from the cross-beam of a wide gate leading into a lumberyard a few blocks away from the other two locations. One of the victims hung without his trousers and minus a finger on his left hand.[3]

Practically every Chinese-occupied building on the block was ransacked and almost every resident was attacked or robbed. A total of 18 Chinese immigrants were tortured and then hung by the mob, making the event the largest mass lynching in American history.[4]

Location[edit]

Calle de los Negros was situated immediately northeast of Los Angeles’s principal business district, running 500 feet (150 m) from the intersection of Arcadia Street to the plaza. The unpaved street took its name from the dark-complexioned Californios (pre-annexation, Spanish-speaking mixed-race Californians) who had originally lived there.[citation needed] Once home to the town’s most prominent families, the neighborhood had deteriorated into a slum by the time Los Angeles’s first Chinatown was established there in the 1860s.

Los Angeles merchant and memoirist Harris Newmark recalled that Calle de los Negros was “as tough a neighborhood, in fact, as could be found anywhere.”[5] Los Angeles historian Morrow Mayo described it as

a dreadful thoroughfare, forty feet wide, running one whole block, filled entirely with saloons, gambling-houses, dance-halls, and cribs. It was crowded night and day with people of many races, male and female, all rushing and crowding along from one joint to another, from bar to bar, from table to table. There was a band in every joint, with harps, guitars, and other stringed instruments predominating.[6]

Calle de los Negros was incorporated into Los Angeles Street in 1877. The adobe apartment block where the Chinese massacre occurred was torn down in the late 1880s. Today, the location is part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.

Causes[edit]

The underlying causes are sometimes said to be economic. A growing movement of anti-Chinese discrimination in California climaxed in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.[citation needed] These root economic causes were the unstable economy after the American Civil War, which led to high unemployment in California and other Western American states.

Aftermath[edit]

Only ten rioters were ever brought to trial.[citation needed] Eight were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on a legal technicality. The eight convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to imprisonment in San Quentin[7] were:

Alvarado, Esteban
Austin, Charles
Botello, Refugio
Crenshaw, L. F.
Johnson, A. R.
Martinez, Jesus
McDonald, Patrick M.
Mendel, Louis

The event was well-reported on the East Coast as newspapers there labeled Los Angeles a "blood stained Eden" after the riots.

Representation in Literature[edit]

Alejandro Morales recounts the massacre in his The Brick People (1988).

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Chinese Massacre of 1871". University of Southern California. June 23, 2002. Archived from the original on October 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ Scott Zesch, "Chinese Los Angeles in 1870—1871: The Makings of a Massacre", Southern California Quarterly, 90 (Summer 2008), 109-158; Paul M. De Falla, "Lantern in the Western Sky", The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 42 (March 1960), 57-88 (Part I), and 42 (June 1960), 161-185 (Part II).
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Erika Lee, Review of The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871, by Scott Zesch, Journal of American History, vol. 100, no. 1 (June 2013), pg. 217.
  5. ^ Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853—1913 (1916; 4th ed., Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1984), 31.
  6. ^ Morrow Mayo, Los Angeles (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933), 38.
  7. ^ Paul R Spitzzeri, "Judge Lynch in session: Popular justice in Los Angeles, 1850-1875" Historical society of Souther California Quarterly 87, No. 2 (Summer 2005), 108

Further reading[edit]

  • Scott Zesch, The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

External links[edit]