The 1871 Chinese Massacre in Los Angeles
The Tragedy in 1871 of Los Angeles, Ca
Los Angeles California was a beautiful land, blue skies, and the Pacific Ocean skirting it. But it was also a city of nativism targeting the Chinese. Even the government turned a blind eye to the discrimination toward the Chinese.
The census of 1841 counted only 141 people, and by 1871 there were 6000 living there. It was also a violent city with numerous brothels, taverns, hoodlums, and only six policemen. A small fraction of the city was Chinese. Yet, for some reason, sinophobia (fear of Chinese) was rampant. It didn't help the situation when the LA News and the LA Star continued to run editors condemning the Chinese for being lazy, treacherous—and increasing in numbers.
The area the Chinese lived was called Calle de Los Negros or Negro Alley, so named because of the darker skin of the Spaniards who had lived there before.
The ruckus started when two Chinese businessmen argued over a woman, Yut Ho, who belonged to a Yuen gang but was kidnapped by a rival gang. It so happened that a white citizen was inadvertently killed, and when the mob learned of this, the Chinese fled to Coronel Bldg for safety. One of the policemen, Jesus Bilderrain, heard a shot and ran to the area he thought it came from. After seeing some Chinese men running to the Coronel building and blowing his whistle, he wildly fired into the building while a white man, Robert Thompson, went to his aid. Thompson was shot in the chest and later died. A mob was forming and shouting the "Chinese were killing whites."
On October 14, 1871, a mob of 500 Anglos and Latinos began attacking, dragging Chinese out, and setting up gallows for hanging. The mob chased the Chinese and forced them out of the building. Some of the crowd managed to get on the roof, chopped holes, and started shooting to the floor below. Before the massacre was over, 17 Chinese were hanged with their bodies heaped in the jail courtyard, showing the grim reality of the night before.
One of the Chinese hanged was Dr. Chee Long Tong, who was respected by both whites and Chinese. He was begging for his life, offering all his life savings of $3000 as one of the mob shot him in the mouth, killing him, then proceeded to cut off his finger to get his gold rings.
Justice For the Massacre
Los Angeles was at the time attempting to get rail service to their city, and a tragedy like this could stop growth for them with bad publicity. It seems nothing appeared to change, and the newspapers failed to report much of what happened. Although indictments were issued for some 25 citizens, witnesses could not identify any of them. Many prominent leaders of the city were among the mob participating in the bloody massacre. Some say the police were on the take and simply let the mob do whatever they wanted.
In 1863, the state had passed legislation that would not allow any Asian person to testify against any white person. Therefore, no Chinese could accuse or testify about the massacre. The Chinese were now open to abuse and random attacks.
There is no doubt this was racially motivated, with the city leaders choosing to cover it up. Some were prosecuted for manslaughter and sentenced to San Quentin Prison. It wasn't long before they were all released on a "legal technicality".
Charges were dropped with no one ever held accountable. The only thing that happened after the massacre was the outlawing of using a noose. The 17 Chinese were the last to be lynched in Los Angeles.
In 1882, The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur, prohibiting Chinese immigration. It was repealed in 1943, ending 62 years of Chinese exclusion and allowed them to become naturalized citizens.
In 2014, Congress passed a measure to recognize the many contributions the Chinese-Americans have made and to apologize for the previous racist acts.