Forgotten History: The Chinese Massacre of 1871

This new “Forgotten History” series details important events in American history that I never learned about in primary or secondary education, or that were recommended to me by my peers. The forgotten events, people, and ideas are too often about classes of individuals who have been historically subordinated in the United States, like racial minorities, LGBTQ individuals, women, and people of low socioeconomic status, to name a few. The history we learn in school, and therefore often the history that shapes our view of the country, is largely skewed toward the narrative of the property-owning white man.

I want to change this. So I’m starting this series in the hopes that it will create awareness for forgotten moments in history that are not only important themselves, but also incredibly significant in the grander scheme of how the United States was shaped. I hope in particular that people who might have preconceived notions about the struggles (or lack thereof) of certain marginalized groups can learn something and consider changing their attitudes and have more empathy.

So first, thanks for being here and following the series. Second, of course I need your help. The people who will benefit the most from it are definitely not just those in my network of connections. So here are a few things you can do:

  1. I am still working on a better name for the series, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
  2. If you know of events in forgotten history that you would like to see featured here, contact me! I want to write about what my readers care about.
  3. Please please share these links so that others can be educated. I will try to keep the pieces short and interesting.

Thanks y’all, and keep up the good fight. Keep reading to learn about the largest mass lynching in the United States – it might not be what the internet, or schools, have told you.

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The largest mass lynching in United States history was committed in 1871 in Los Angeles, California. On October 24, 1871, at least 17 Chinese immigrants were tortured and hung by a mob of over 500 white men.

The massacre was racially motivated, triggered by the death of Robert Thompson, a local rancher, who got caught in the midst of a gun battle between two Chinese factions. Almost every Chinese-occupied building on Calle de los Negros in Los Angeles was raided and all Chinese residents were attacked or robbed. The 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants who were lynched were hanged at three places near the downtown business section of the city.

Only ten out of 500 rioters were brought to trial after the massacre. Eight were convicted, but those convictions were thrown out almost immediately on a legal technicality.

When you Google “largest mass lynching in American history,” many sources will tell you it was the horrific mass lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans on March 14, 1891. The 1871 massacre of Chinese immigrants is largely forgotten in history not only because it, and other anti-Chinese moments in history (for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) are not taught in school, but also because Los Angeles worked very hard to cover it up. The truth about the Chinese massacre was hidden from the public eye for over a hundred years, because of the involvement of some of Los Angeles’s leading citizens. These men were powerful enough to not only affect the convictions but also cover up the massacre itself. You can read more here if you’re interested.

This massacre of Chinese immigrants represented anti-Chinese sentiment at the time, set the stage for future anti-Chinese legislation and actions, and is only one example of so many events significant to minorities that have been hidden, and therefore forgotten.

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