Council Adopts Resolution Expressing Seattle’s Regret for Historical Anti-Chinese Legislation

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City of Seattle

Council Adopts Resolution Expressing Seattle’s Regret for Historical Anti-Chinese Legislation

SEATTLE – Council unanimously approved a resolution today that expresses regret for anti-Chinese legislation passed by the Washington Territory and previous Seattle City Councils in the 1800s. The resolution also recognizes the past and continuing contributions of the Chinese to Seattle and reaffirms the City’s commitment to the civil rights of all people, and celebrates the contributions that all immigrants have made to Seattle in the past and present.

“We shouldn’t bury our history,” said Councilmember Nick Licata, the legislation’s sponsor. “Discriminatory policies ripple from the past and still affect Chinese communities today. Awareness and recognition of shameful policies in our history is the first step to moving forward together.”

As a result of discriminatory legislation adopted by the Washington Territory, Chinese people were denied the right to vote, prohibited from giving evidence in the courts in cases involving Caucasians, and denied the right to own land. 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.

“There’s no escaping that in the past Seattle had a day of shame – February 7th, 1886 – when a mob tried to expel the Chinese workers who built our railroad, worked in our industries and helped build Seattle. That was a dark day in our history, a day of injustice that we must own along with other wrongs and now move forward to address,” said Councilmember Jean Godden.

“If we are to address persistent issues of racial and economic inequality in Seattle, we must acknowledge the institutional racism of our past,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “I commend the Council for making this statement of regret about our City’s painful history of legal racial discrimination.”

Councilmember Licata developed the resolution after he was approached by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates, and the local chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. Members of both groups spoke to their history and urged Council to adopt the resolution.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Jean Godden, and John Okamoto.

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