150 years ago this week, 18 Chinese men were massacred in Los Angeles. Race riots targeting Chinese immigrants were not uncommon during the 1860s and 1870s, but the massacre in Los Angeles is considered to be the largest lynching in U.S. history. But there are few plaques, few illustrations, and the event is little known in the city where it occurred. And this has relevance for the present.
In writing about the massacre, Frank Shyong, (LA Times, 10/24/21) described how few Angelenos – even activist Chinese Americans–know of this event.
“A century and a half later, as Asian Americans are facing a surge in racial violence prompted by the pandemic, I’m thinking about the lessons never learned from this forgotten history.”
How can we learn from history if we don’t know it? And the bigger question is: Why don’t we know it? There are as many reasons to suppress certain historical events as there are reasons to reinterpret events in order to celebrate the abuser rather than the abused—consider the Confederate
monuments currently part of the ongoing culture wars. But once we know these histories, we are obligated to teach others.
CSPG collects and exhibits graphics of both well-known and little known events where human rights were violated, and crimes against humanity and nature were committed. When writing our Poster of the Week, we first look to our archive, then to other collections, and then to the internet. We found some photos, but no contemporary or commemorative illustrations.
The graphic shown above was repeatedly used to illustrate discussions of the 1871 Los Angeles massacre, but it was made following an 1880 anti-Chinese riot in Denver, Colorado. Most of the time, it wasn’t even labeled, so it seemed to reference the 1871 event. If there are any graphics out there, please let us know.