When Hordes of Angry White Men Attacked South Asians for ‘Stealing Jobs’ in Washington

Bellingham

On Sept. 4, 1907, about 500 white men attacked the homes of South Asian workers in Bellingham, Washington, convinced the immigrants were taking over jobs at the local lumber mills.

Why this matters: The incident, known as Bellingham’s “anti-Hindu” riots, is a dark chapter in Asian American history in which law enforcement allegedly cooperated with racists under the guise of “protecting” immigrants.

  • Most of the mob were alleged members of the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization formed in the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century that sought to block Asian immigration.
  • During the attack, the mob threw the workers from their homes and workplaces into the streets, beat them and stole their valuables.
  • Up to 200 workers were rounded up in the basement of City Hall overnight, supposedly under police protection.
  • By the next day, however, 125 South Asians had been driven out of town and were headed to British Columbia.
  • Of those 500 rioters, only five were arrested but were never indicted due to the prosecutor’s claim that no witnesses were willing to testify.

Never to return: Just days after the riots, Bellingham’s South Asian community was “wiped off the map,” according to a local newspaper.

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  • The displaced workers — most of whom never returned — were mostly Sikh East Indians, but newspapers called them “Hindus.”
  • After the riots, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino workers also fled the city, fearing for their own safety.
  • The Bellingham riots were part of a larger anti-Asian movement in the Pacific coast; separate incidents occurred in San Francisco and Vancouver.
  • The San Francisco riots, which began on May 20, 1907, were led by European-American nativists who sought the exclusion of Japanese immigrants and continued segregation of white and Japanese students.
  • The Vancouver riots, on the other hand, occurred two nights after the Bellingham incident and involved white people attacking Chinese, Japanese and “Hindus.”

Featured Image Screenshot via The Morning Reveille / Timeline

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