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1871 Chinese Massacre

Victims of the 1871 Chinese massacre in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.

One of the darkest episodes in Los Angeles history was the 1871 "Chinese Massacre." The event was preceded by simmering anti-Chinese bigotry and, within Chinatown itself (presently where Union Station is located), conflict between two competing tongs (gangs). On the evening of October 24, several white constables entered Chinatown to break up an argument between members of the tongs. Whether by anger or accident, a white man ended up dead by gunshot wound. Shortly thereafter, a mob of 500 non-Asian Angelenos began hunting down and assaulting every Chinese they could find. After five hours, the mobs had killed 19 Chinese men and boys (only one of the victims might have been implicated in the death of the white man). Chinese homes and businesses had also been looted. Eleven white men including Sheriff James Burns and prominent Angeleno Robert Widney had attempted to stop the mobs but were themselves overwhelmed. The mob even shot and killed one of the white men who was trying to protect the Chinese. The incident drew national attention and provoked a grand jury investigation. Seven men were held responsible and convicted for the riots, but only one actually served any jail time.