Overlooked American History: Forced Sterilization in the U.S. & The Chinese Massacre of 1871

By Sarai Carpio-Au

Staff Writer

This will be the final installment of Overlooked American History and what has been covered is the different ways human rights have been violated. This series showcases how terrifying and horrific mankind can be. While living in the U.S. with people who have many different cultures and physical attributes, I’ve always been curious about the design of people geographically and the struggle of how these people have gotten to where they are in the U.S. today.

Eugenics, a man made method made to make mankind pure was popularized by the Nazis but what’s not known is that Eugenics was created and partaken originally in the U.S.. It was also used in a way to hinder people with physical deformities, mental illnesses, and people of color from reproducing in America. 

In addition another event that violated people of color that many people haven’t heard of is the Chinese Massacre of 1871. This event, which took place in Los Angeles, California, has left a dreadful mark of racism, being America’s worst mass lynching. It has forever affected the lives of these families and communities. 

Here’s an overview of these events:

The scientific racism of Eugenics

Eugenics, from the Greek term “well and born”, can be traced all the way back to 1883 and was created by Charles Davenport, a biologist and eugenicist, with the help of the well-known Sir Francis Galton who enjoyed the study of patterns creating what we know now as fingerprint identification and weather maps.

They shared the belief that those who were “feebleminded” were weak; this includes intellectual disability, mental disabilities, and physical disabilities. They also believed, when shown through patterns of families, that talent or expectational intelligence was inherited, which made them hypothesize that if they could put two “perfect” human beings together to breed they could create the master race. This practice is known as selective breeding and it would also lead to forced sterilization so that all breeding was “pure”.

An illustration of an old, Caucasian, doctor spinning the world on his two feet. The baby angel on the left is weeping as their wings and bow & arrow are broken. It states, “Eugenics Makes the World go ‘round.” Illustration by Puck, v. 73, no. 1894 (1913 June 18)

In a penned letter to Madison Grant, Davenport wrote,  “Can we build a wall high enough around this country […] to keep out these cheaper races?” Not only was eugenics built on the unethical solutions of mankind but it also enforced scientific racism displayed throughout the 20th century in America. Southern states funded programs in eugenics in order to control the African-American population. For example, in the 1930s unnecessary operations, like removing all parts of the uterus, were done on women of color for medical students who needed practice known as a “Mississippi appendectomy”.  In the 1960s and 1970s, Mexican women in Los Angeles were sterilized without consent after giving birth. In the 1970s to 1980s, 25-50% of young Native Americans were given tubal ligations when they were getting appendectomies.

“Stop Forced Sterilization” Propaganda poster to protest against forced Sterilization at Civic Center in San Francisco. Romero, Rachael, 1953-, designer San Francisco Poster Brigade.

California despite having the movie stars, the attractions and the diversity actually has an extreme amount of racism and shocking history. Interestingly, it was the third state in the United States to pass a sterilization law, and by 1921 California would account for 80% of sterilizations nationwide. Forced sterilization shows discimination in the U.S. like no other, another form of discrimination to people of color and especially women. Let’s move on to another tragic, racist event in American history.

The worst mass lynching in America: The Chinese Massacre of 1871 

Los Angeles is known for many things such as its glam, celebrities, serial killers, the list goes on. In the late 1800s- early 20th century was the immigration period, an overlooked era that was extremely violent due to the fact that lynching and mob justice were very common. The Gold Rush in California saw a surge in immigrants and those who seeked fortune; it also led to racial tension due to the different appearances and cultures. Chinese immigrants, who took up 3% of the population, were targeted and attacked immorally. The attacks were recorded and even encouraged by the press. It would eventually take a greater turn resulting in the Chinese Massacre of 1871 described as the worst mass lynching in America.

A photo taken of a group of Chinese laborers in the 1870s.

In October 1871, a shootout occurred in Chinatown caused by two feuding Chinese mobs which took place due to the kidnapping of a young Chinese woman who would be sold into sexual slavery. As the LAPD already had such a low employment rate, only two police officers and an assisting bystander, Robert Thompson, were able to attempt to end the shootout. Robert Thompson, a well-known saloon owner, was killed in the shootout  and a police officer was shot. 

News of the shootout spread extremely fast, which led to the formation of a mob of 500 Caucasians and Hispanics. Then on October 24, 1871, Black Tuesday, or the Night of Horrors, began. 

They had stormed Old Chinatown and began forcing the Chinese out of the Coronel Building, dragging them to their makeshift scaffolds where they would soon be hung. Seven men were found hanging from the scaffolds and the crowd would then bring three more victims to a freight wagon also being hanged to their death. A man named Al would run away in fear of the mob, he was then captured and lynched from the gate of a lumberyard. The mob used a large stone and eventually broke down the doors of every apartment in Cali de Los Negros (Old Chinatown) dragging the Chinese people out onto the street where they’d suffer through extreme violence and brutality. Eighteen were murdered that day, either lynched or shot, not only were the families of these murdered victims affected, but the entire street of Cali de Los Negros.

The remains of the murdered victims the day after the massacre.

The citizens who partook in this wicked event were to be arrested but soon all charges were dropped. There were absolutely no reparations nor were there any condolences sent to the traumatized families. 

Racism towards Asians is still normalized within America. For example Covid-19, a virus that has caused a global pandemic, has been used to validate anti-Asian racism, hatred, verbal and physical attacks against Chinese citizens. 

Former President Donald Trump would call the virus the “Chinese virus” or the “kung-flu” which was excused as a joke. This questions the fact if any progress against racism has even been made in America at all. 

This is the final part of my Overlooked American History series. We’ve gone through events that showcase displacement, systematic racism, and how mankind is utterly petrifying. However, by continuously educating one another and understanding everyone’s struggles we can not only better ourselves but society. This is Sarai Carpio-Au. Thank you for reading Overlooked American History.

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