Driving Out the Celestials

In January 1886, Del Norte County leaders called a meeting to draft a legal way to drive out the local Chinese population. The outcome would force the county’s hundreds of Chinese residents and workers onto boats and wagons headed for San Francisco and Oregon in the following weeks.

Similar expulsions would take place up and down the West coast. Crescent City’s expulsion followed one in Eureka a few days earlier that rounded up Chinese residents and sent them to San Francisco by boat. The story remains well-known along the Northcoast.

Other communities in the West that carried out similar expulsions – meaning that Eureka and Crescent City are not isolated episodes in racial fights against the Chinese. The West’s white settlers expected Chinese immigrants, known as hard workers, to take jobs at mills, gold mines, road and railroad construction projects.

Labor organizers drummed up support to expel the Chinese on the Northcoast and would prompt similar moves in Tacoma, Wash., and Rock Springs, Wyoming. The expulsions followed a killing of a Humboldt County politician in Eureka, blamed on a Chinese man, and complaints of prostitution and drug use in Chinese neighborhoods.

Connecting the Northcoast expulsions to other incidents against the nation’s Chinese immigrants can clarify American history. Nearly 31 California communities kicked out Chinese residents during the late 1800s.

Ads in Del Norte County publications at the time touted businesses that refused to hire Chinese people. Material from Humboldt County’s 1886 chamber of commerce and business leaders promoted the county’s scenery, climate, homes and lack of Chinese residents.

Chinese American families refused to send their children to the school because of the county’s past. Old newspaper accounts in cities and towns along the West Coast from Seattle to Crescent City to San Diego and east into Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho.

The articles chronicle the often brutal expulsions and racist acts in various western communities, as respected community leaders drafted zoning and employment laws to ban Chinese residents. Labor organizers sought to protect mining and other jobs for white settlers.

City mayors, county supervisors, a high school principal and newspaper editor led anti-Chinese movements. White residents rounded up Chinese families at gunpoint and loaded them onto ships in winter.

Town residents looted or auctioned off the goods that Chinese people left behind after forced evacuations. Besides oral and written accounts, a timeline detail the purges.

Notices for town meetings call for ideas on crafting legal methods to evict Chinese people, while ads boast of Chinese free towns. The federal Exclusion Act of 1882 would ban Chinese immigrants from the U.S. until it was repealed in 1943.

Chinese fought back After being forced from their Eureka homes, Chinese people filed the first lawsuit in America for reparations. They organized a militia in Amador and a vegetable strike in Truckee in response to evacuation attempts.

Chinese workers on the railroad line won the right to keep their own cooks who boiled water for tea and saved their health as diseases spread among whites. In an 1885 roundup in Tacoma, Washington, town leaders forced Chinese residents onto a train to Portland.

Those who couldn’t pay hiked the 140 miles. Upon arriving, the Chinese sued Tacoma’s government leaders.

Eureka’s roundup in 1885 followed the death of a city councilman, caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out in Chinatown. A local crowd wanted to kill all of the city’s Chinese residents and burn down Chinatown.

Leaders settled on immediately driving them out by loading them onto boats for San Francisco. When they arrived, the Chinese sued Eureka for racism, lost wages, fishing vessels, crops and horses.

They eventually won.

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