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Centennial of Chinese Expulsion from Seattle

February 7, 1986

SEATTLE (AP) _ A century ago today, working men organized into so-called order committees began rousting Chinese people from their homes, hauled them to the waterfront and expelled them on steamers bound for San Francisco.

More than 350 people were forced aboard the Queen of the Pacific a day later, on Feb. 8, and the George W. Elder a few days later.

Four men were wounded by gunfire and one was killed in rioting that accompanied the expulsions. The riots led to a declaration of martial law and President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to restore order.

The events were part of a wave of anti-Oriental hysteria that swept the West fueled by economic bad times and a belief that the low-paid immigrant Chinese were somehow responsible for citizens losing their jobs.

Today, Seattle has a large and thriving community of Chinese heritage and its leaders have planned a weeklong program to mark the anniversary.

Events include a march from present-day Chinatown on Saturday, the area officially known as the International District, to the pier where the ships lay docked. State Rep. Gary Locke and Superior Court Judge Liem Tuai, both of Chinese descent, will speak, along with other politicians and Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice James Dolliver.

On Feb. 15, a symposium featuring historians Him Mark Lai, Phillip Choy and Judy Yung is planned, as well as a dramatization of the expulsion.

Only a handful of Chinese were allowed to stay in 1886, said Bettie Luke Kan, one of the organizers.

But as economic conditions improved the hard-working immigrants again were recruited for logging, sawmill work, street paving and domestic work. The great Seattle fire of June 6, 1889, provided jobs for the Chinese as the city struggled to rebuild.

Ms. Kan’s grandfather and great-uncle heard the knocks on their doors that Sunday morning.

″It dawned on me that it was getting closer and closer to ’100 years ago,′ and the idea began to form that we should do something,″ said Ms. Kan, 44, an educator. She said she asked her father twice to tell her the story.

″He said his (family’s ) little clan, including his uncle, got out guns to protect themselves when the vigilantes came,″ she recalled.

″My impression (after the first talk) was that they were courageous and were able to stay, so I asked him about that the second time.

″He said no, they tried to defend themselves but there were too many of the opposition. He said the only reason his uncle got to stay was because he was Mayor (Henry) Yesler’s houseboy.″

Just before the Seattle expulsion, 700 Chinese were forced from their homes in Tacoma and loaded on a train to Oregon. In a riot in Rock Springs, Wyo., in September 1885, 28 Chinese were killed and more than 500 driven out of town.

That same month, according to a history of the International District, three people were killed and three injured in an ambush of a Chinese camp at a hop farm east of Seattle.

Only a few years earlier, Chinese immigrants had been welcomed as cheap labor to build the transcontinental railroads.

But the federal Exclusion Act of 1882 forbade further Chinese immigration, and violence against West Coast Chinese became increasingly common as the economic situation worsened.

Congress eventually appropriated $276,619 as full indemnity for losses by West Coast Chinese. The money was paid to the Chinese government, according to an account of the period, Murray Morgan’s ″Skid Road.″ No one involved in the Seattle expulsion was ever convicted of a crime.

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