1900 - Forbidden Worker, the Chinese Question, and American Labor

The "driving out" initially began in Sacramento when the Central Pacific Railroad Company which later became the Southern Pacific filled in the slough as they expanded their corporation yard. Work in filling the slough began in 1863 and the task was not completed until 1910 after many years and milestones in city and railroad negotiations. The slough leading to the river was closed off in 1880 and, by 1882, the Chinese fishing industry was eliminated in Sacramento proper when the Chinese fishermen could no longer gain access to the river from their homes on I Street. 1

Since the solution to the elimination or "driving out" of the Chinese in China Slough remained in the realm of politics and local government, the more adamant whites focused their ire on the Chinese laundry business which had been only a side issue to the total slough problem. Most Chinese laundries, however, did not rely on the slough water. The city had constructed a waterworks system in 1853 and because of this municipal network the Chinese were able to expand their laundry business to other parts of town. Equating public health hazards with the slough and the Chinese laundries, several laws restricting the Chinese-operated laundries were passed. One law enacted in the 1870s prohibited washing in the open air, washing could be executed only within an enclosed building with a roof, four walls, and a drainage system. Another ordinance prohibited any occupancy or use of building that extended over the water. Another public health ordinance prohibited Chinese from using an oral sprinkling technique for ironing clothes. 2

While some Sacramentans wrestled with the precise wording of laundry ordinances, other citizens in town continued to patronize the Chinese laundries. One account reported as many as three hundred Chinese were working in fifty-five Chinese-operated laundries in the city. A later report plotted the distribution of forty-three Chinese laundries in Sacramento in 1880. This same report indicated that the number of Chinese grocery businessman was also extensive. Most of the early grocery stores tended to be located on corners in residential sections of towns; but, on I Street, in Chinatown, between Second and Fifth Streets, a short three blocks, there were fifteen Chinese grocery stores. 3

In the 1860 census there was almost every conceivable occupation in the Sacramento Chinese community including two women fortune tellers and an assortment of musicians and actors. There or is no doubt that there was a Chinese metropolis within Sacramento proper. A lengthy article on the Chinese and Sacramento's Chinatown entitled ''Le Chinois Quartier'' in a January 1873 issue of the Sacramento Union told of the Chinese vegetable peddlers and dealers congregating on the corner of J and Third Streets in the early mornings haggling over prices and produce. The vegetable dealers' gardens were located in Sutter's Addition, R Street levee, and in the Sutterville area. 4

As the 1873 article continued, in light industry there were five cigar factories (employing a total of twenty-five Chinese) and two shoe and slipper manufacturers (one on Third between J and K, K Street between Third and Fourth). To Streets and the other on serve the needs of the smaller Chinese communities outside Sacramento, particularly the mountain towns, there were three wholesalers: Wah Hing, Ye Chung, and Tong Wo Yaun; and to serve the greater needs of those Chinatown there were ten grocery stores, three restaurants, six barber shops with a total of twelve barbers, seven physicians, and six drug stores, four butcher shops, two slaughter yards, an assortment of one hundred and fifty other businesses including a complement of one hundred and twenty-five prostitutes, yang gambling houses, a pawnshop, one joss house, and a mission. When the city of Sacramento was thirty years old, the city limits had expanded as population moved east and southward. 5

The attempts to restrict Chinese employment in favor of white workers and to remove the Chinese from the city limits escalated in the late 1870s and 1880s. In April 1876 four thousand Sacramentans, mostly members of the Sacramento Order of Caucasians, an organization dedicated to excluding Chinese labor and promoting white labor, held an anti-Chinese meeting. In 1878 the Board of trustees sent a telegram to President Rutherford Hayes encouraging him to sign a bill limiting Chinese immigration, the resolution claimed the backing of 25,000 residents of Sacramento. In that same year two anti-Chinese groups, the Order of the Caucasians and the Workingmen Party demanded that the Chinese be excluded from municipal employment and a ban placed on government purchase of materials from businesses employing Chinese. Due also to vigorous lobbying by the anti-Chinese Workingmen's Party, led by Dennis Kearney (an immigrant from Ireland), Article XIX, Section 4 forbade corporations from hiring Chinese coolies, and empowered all California cities and counties to completely expel Chinese persons or to limit where they could reside. While the workingmen in the east organized aid struck for higher wages and shorter working hours, in the west, the organization's issues evolved into anti-Chinese movements. Here, the Chinese had become the scapegoat for many of the workingmen woes. 6

At the 1879 State Fair, a special "white label" created for white-manufactured cigars to call attention to the protest against Chinese labor in the cigar industry. In March 1886 a statewide convention of the California Anti-Chinese Non-Partisan Trustees Association was held in Sacramento hosted by the Sacramento Mechanics and Laborers Anti-Chinese League. The county governments were encouraged to send their officials as delegates, thus the convention was deemed quasi-official. Earlier that year the Board of Trustees entertained various ordinances to remove the Chinese from the city limits. Most of these ordinances lacked total city council support or were proved unconstitutional. 7 The anti-Chinese movements eventually drove the Chinese out of the China Slough. But during the last two decades, at the height of the public clamor, the 1882 Exclusion Law went into effect and in 1892 the extension of the law prohibited Chinese immigration well into the twentieth century. Perceiving the tenor and darkened clouds surrounding them, the Chinese withdrew into almost obscurity and their numbers in Sacramento declined as reflected in the population data: 8

1880 1,781
1890 1,733
1900 1,065

Because of clashes between the Chinese and white labor movements, the turn of the century provided no relief from anti-Chinese bigotry. In 1902, Chinese exclusion extended for another ten years. Immigration officials and the police raid Boston's Chinatown and, without search warrants, arrest almost 250 Chinese who allegedly had no registration certificates on their persons. And in 1904, the Chinese exclusion was made indefinite and applicable to all U.S. insular possessions. Consequently in 1905, the Asiatic Exclusion League formed in San Francisco. Section 60 of California's Civil Code amended to forbid marriage between whites and "Mongolians." The Chinese were very much hated but very much needed at the same time.

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1. J. Roy Jones, Memories, Men, and Medicine (Sacramento, 1950), p. 269; Jenkins, Slough, p. 5: Wells Fargo Directory of Chinese Business Houses -1882 (San Francisco, 1882).

2. Jenkins, Slough, p. 5; Dorene Askin, The Chinese in Sacramento Through the Acts of the City Council 1849-1900 (Sacramento, 1979), pp. 5-6, 20; Brienes et a1., Overview, p. 55.

3. Brienes, Overview, pp. 50, 56; Askin, Laundries, pp. 7-8

4. 1860 Census Population Schedule; Sacramento Daily Union, January 11, 1873; Cole, Capitalist Perspective, p. 21.

5. Sacramento Daily Union, January 11, 1873.

6. Cole, Capitalist Perspective, p. 19: Askin, Acts, pp. 2-4.

7. Cole, Capitalist Perspective, p. 19: Askin, Acts, p. 3: Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Los Angeles, 1971), pp. 208-9.

8. Statistics of the Population of the United States-1880 (Washington, 1883), p. 416; Statistics-1890 (Washington, 1895), pp. 676-7; 1900 U. S. Census (Washington, 1901), p. cxix