While there has been a worrying increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Asians in the United States, as I noted in my last column, some progress is being made in one city that should not be overlooked.
Let me briefly explain what occurred historically.
Along with federal and state laws aimed to oppress Chinese residents and to prevent more Chinese immigrants from coming to America, there were anti-Asian pogroms in some cities in the late 1800s.
One of these cities was the small lumber, mining and fishing port of Eureka, Calif., located along the rugged, beautiful North Coast of California that is known for its inspiring ancient redwoods.
In building the transcontinental railroad, Chinese immigrants were instrumental but mercilessly exploited workers. Despite their sacrifices, they were never accepted into the larger and mostly white American society.
With the railroad complete, the 1882-1885 Depression occurred ~ especially the Panic of 1884. In its wake came economic suffering and uncertainty for many Americans.
It didn’t take long for labor unions to stoke already virulent anti-immigrant hatred, because they saw Chinese and other immigrants as competitors for jobs they felt they were entitled to.
This climate of malignant prejudice even made its way to newspapers’ front pages as they fueled hatred against Asians in general and Chinese in particular.
Amid this climate of intolerance, a shooting occurred in Eureka that would launch a series of pogroms against Chinese residents in towns along the West Coast of the United States.
The shooting was reportedly between two rival Chinese gangs. Caught in the crossfire was a popular Eureka city councilman, David Kendall, who was killed. With the county sheriff unable to determine who the shooter was, white residents were on the verge of committing mass violence against Chinese residents.
Shortly after the shooting, approximately 600 agitated white residents met. They resolved to expel all of Humboldt County’s Chinese residents. City leaders appointed what was called the “Committee of Fifteen,” and it was this committee that organized the expulsion of nearly 500 Chinese residents, split among two steamships, bound for San Francisco.
The white residents then destroyed what had been Eureka’s Chinatown.
“This ‘peaceful’ method of expelling Chinese was touted as The Eureka Method (or Eureka Plan) and served as a model for Chinese expulsions in other California cities, including Crescent City (1885), Arcata (1886), Ferndale (1906), as well as other towns along the West Coast such as Tacoma, Washington (1885),” according to Wikipedia and verified by other sources.
Many sources say that Asian Americans did not return to Humboldt County until the 1950s.
Despite that ugly history, something is now being done to recognize the gross injustice that unfolded in Eureka so long ago.
A group titled the Eureka Chinatown Project has ambitious plans to memorialize the struggle of Eureka’s Chinese residents of so long ago.
“In conjunction with the City of Eureka, we are able to commemorate the history of Chinatown on two future interpretive signs located near Historic Chinatown,” according to the group’s website. “One panel will focus on the life of the Chinese and the other on the 1885 Expulsion.
“What started as a plan for a plaque to indicate where Chinatown once stood has evolved into a commemorative monument. … We are working with the City of Eureka to rename the alley that runs through the Old Chinatown Block to commemorate the Chinatown that once stood there. Name and design are in progress.”
There will also be a “printed and digital tour of major points of Chinatown, the life of the Chinese and the 1885 Expulsion,” according to the group. “The tour will circle the block of Old Chinatown and potentially end at the waterfront boardwalk. Expected summer 2021.”
While no one is alive today who participated in scapegoating Chinese residents, it is important that American society come to terms with its past injustices, if it is to heal and reconcile.
Once known for what are now considered crimes against humanity, Eureka can now serve as an example for other cities and nations to follow.