Expressing Regret for 19th Century Seattle Anti-Chinese Legislation

Doug Chin

Doug Chin addresses the Finance and Culture Committee

On Wednesday, the Finance and Culture Committee discussed a shameful period in Seattle’s history: Seattle’s treatment of Chinese in the late 19th century. This included discriminatory legislation passed by the Seattle City Council, an anti-Chinese riot, and the expulsion of Chinese residents.

To address this history, a resolution was brought forward by the Organization of Chinese Americans-Asian Pacific American Advocates, and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. I agreed to sponsor it.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee discussed and passed the resolution, which states “The City Council expresses its deep regret for the anti-Chinese sentiments and passage of discriminatory ordinances directed at the Chinese that led to the 1886 anti-Chinese riots in the city and the expulsion of the Chinese.”

The resolution also recognizes the contributions the early Chinese made to the development of Seattle and the continuing contributions of Chinese Americans to this City, reaffirms a commitment to civil rights for all people, and celebrates the contributions that all immigrants have made to Seattle in the past and present.

Frank Irigon, Betty Lau

Frank Irigon and Betty Lau address the Finance and Culture Committee

A Full Council vote is scheduled on Monday, August 3.

We were joined at the table by representatives of the OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. They made a number of moving statements. Doug Chin said, “if you pass this…the Chinese community in particular will love it because it gives them recognition that we belong to this City.” Frank Irigon noted this was a resolution of “redemption and redress.” Betty Lau noted that a relative was not expelled in 1886, since he was the Mayor’s domestic servant.

The history of discriminatory anti-Chinese legislation began in Washington Territory, before statehood in 1889. The Territory passed measures that denied Chinese the right to vote in 1853; a poll tax in 1864; and a law prohibiting Chinese from owning land. The US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, among other discriminatory acts.

In this environment, the Seattle City Council passed three discriminatory laws directed against Chinese in 1885, relating to living space, commercial licenses, and public laundries. In 1886, an anti-Chinese riot took place in Seattle, and a mob of 1500 forced 350 Chinese to leave Seattle. This was part of a regional and national pattern.

Councilmembers Harrell, Godden and Okamoto joined me in co-sponsoring the resolution; Mayor Murray stated his concurrence. City Archivist Scott Cline located the original copies of the legislation, which were hand-written.

You can view the presentation and discussion on the Seattle Channel website here.

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