Near the end of February 2014, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to homosexuals. The bill was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert the right to refuse service to others.
Unfortunately, discrimination – the forbearer of hatred — has raised it ugly head time and again in both Northern Nevada and Northern California.
For instance, “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” was a travel guide series published from 1936 to 1964 by Victor H. Green. It was intended to provide Black motorists and tourists with the information necessary to board, dine, and sightsee comfortably and safely during the era of segregation.
Similar handbooks had reportedly been published for the Jewish community, which also faced widespread discrimination, though they were able to blend in more easily with the general population. Unfortunately, I could find only one such travel guide, published in 2009 called “The Jewish Travel Guide,” by Betsy Sheldon.
The ‘Green Book’ became “the bible of black travel during Jim Crow,” enabling Black travelers to find lodgings, businesses and gas stations that would serve them along the road. Black travelers faced a variety of dangers and inconveniences, ranging from white-owned businesses refusing to serve them or repair their vehicles, to being refused accommodation or food by white-owned hotels, or even facing threats of physical violence and forcible expulsion from whites-only “sundown towns.”
Crescent City, California had a well established Chinatown by the late 1870s. However residents expelled the Chinese populations in the early and mid 1880s.
Grace Hight said in 1948, “Orientals for some years afterward were not seen in Del Norte County, except in the case of Raleigh Scott of Smith River who retained his Chinese cook, Old Dock, until he died.”
Miners considered the Chinese a pest. The saloon keepers were opposed to them because the Chinese had their own methods of gambling and dissipation so did not leave any money in the local bars.
In his 1881 “History of Del Norte County,” author A.J. Bledsoe recounts, “Of the Chinese population it is not necessary to say much. We of the Pacific Coast are too well acquainted with their vile habits, their thieving ways, and their contaminating influence, to render a description of the same either interesting or profitable… [Crescent City] has a Chinese population of between 40 and 100… It is difficult to estimate the Chinese population correctly, because crowded as they are into filthy dens; there is no means of estimating their number by the number of houses they inhabit…. As a general rule their shanties are surrounded by mud, filth, and garbage of every kind – fit surroundings for such a degraded class. And to crown all, the perfumes … rise up in one grand, overpowering stench.”
Following the 1885 death of a Eureka, California, city councilman at the hands of Chinese man, Bledsoe describes, “The next evening a parade was held down the main street of [Crescent City], with a small band playing, and citizens marching holding placards reading ‘The Chinese Must Go.’… It was reported that a number of eyes could be seen peeking from the roofs of some of the buildings [in Chinatown].”
The citizens of Crescent City held meetings the first week of March, 1886, to he adds, “remove all Mongolians from our midst.”
“The exodus began by loading the women and children and two old men on a wagon with what bedding they could collect while being pushed and dragged to the wagons,” writes Bledsoe. “Their cries and pleas were unforgettable. They were afraid the men would be beaten and killed. By the end of the next day most of the men were with their relatives, except possibly a half dozen who were permitted to stay and sell their effects.”
He adds, “The Bay Hotel Company had trouble keeping a crew of four [Chinese workers]. They contracted in San Francisco with four Japanese to take the job. Within two weeks they were waited on by a delegation from the logging camps and told that Orientals were not permitted to live in Del Norte County. They left by boat the next day.”
Two days after the accidental shooting death of the Eureka city councilman, that city’s Chinatown, formerly home to 480 Chinese Americans, ceased to exist. Shortly after the expulsion, a citizen’s committee drafted an unofficial law stating:
“That all Chinamen be expelled from the city and that none be allowed to return. That a committee be appointed to act for one year, whose duty shall be to warn all Chinamen who may attempt to come to this place to live, and to use all reasonable means to prevent their remaining. If the warning is disregarded, to call mass meetings of citizens to whom the case will be referred for proper action. That a notice be issued to all property owners through the daily papers, requesting them not to lease or rent property to Chinese.”
A year later, in 1886, Arcata (known as Union at the time,) expelled its Chinese population and enacted the following resolution: “We the citizens of Arcata and vicinity wish the total expulsion of the Chinese from our midst. We endorse the efforts of Eureka to exclude all Chinese settlements in the city and environs.”
Chinese expelled from Eureka unsuccessfully attempted to sue for damages on property loss. In the U.S. Circuit Court case Wing Hing v. Eureka, the court noted that the Chinese residents owned no land and held that their other property was worthless.
On the first anniversary of the expulsion, Eureka citizens met to renew their pledges to keep Chinese people out of the city. They also offered help to other towns attempting to expel Chinese people.
Thankfully, the anti-Chinese ordinance was repealed in 1959, and a number of Asians live in the city. But before the expulsion of “Celestials,” came the whole-sale massacre of the Wiyot Indians on February 26th, 1860, at Tuluwat, an island in Humboldt Bay.
It is estimated that between 80 to 250 Wiyot men, women, and children were murdered while all the able-bodied men were away. Famed Comstock journalist Bret Harte, who was assistant-editor for Union’s ‘Northern Californian,’ reported the slaughter like this: “Blood stood in pools on all sides; the walls of the huts were stained and the grass colored red. Lying around were dead bodies of both sexes and all ages from the old man to the infant at the breast.”
“Some had their heads split in twain by axes, others beaten into jelly with clubs, others pierced or cut to pieces with bowie knives,” he writes. “Some struck down as they mired; others had almost reached the water when overtaken and butchered.”
Harte was run out of town after the wide-spread publication of his report — and a number of death threats.
In a 2002 Associated Press story, William H. Jacobsen Jr. said he remembers hearing the 6 p.m. whistle blow daily in Carson Valley. It was the sound of segregation against the local Indians.
“When the whistle went off, the Indians had to get out of Minden and Gardnerville,” said Jacobsen, a retired University of Nevada, Reno professor, renowned linguist, author and pioneer in the study of tribal languages.
Unionville, county seat of Humboldt County, Nevada, expelled all of its Chinese “in the middle of January 1869.” The sheriff did nothing.
Charges were filed against leaders but dropped. But after Unionville declined as a mining center, a few Chinese returned to mine, between the 1880s and 1905 or so, elsewhere in the county.
Chinese were excluded from Goldfield, Nevada, seat of Esmeralda County, between 1909 and 1918. No persons of Chinese descent were reported as residents of Esmeralda County” in the censuses after 1920.
“In early Goldfield, there were a number of Black residents but ‘they never let a Chinese or a Jap get off the train. If they came, they were told to go right back.’
Blacks were driven out of some Nevada communities in the early 1900s. In Reno during 1904, Police Chief R. C. Leeper openly carried out a policy of arresting all unemployed Blacks and forcing them to leave the city…”
Elmer R. Rusco writes in his 1975 book, “Good Time Coming?”
“It is not known how widespread the policy of forcing blacks out of Nevada cities was, but in 1914 a newspaper in eastern Nevada reported that ‘all along the South Pacific Rail Road the Nevada towns are making war upon unemployed negroes…”
He adds, “Blacks were excluded from some Nevada communities at various times during the 20th century and were forced out of other communities.”
A Rawhide, Nevada, newspaper bragged in 1908 that “…Blacks ‘have been kindly but friendly [sic] informed to move on…’”
In the 1956 spring edition of the “Green Book,” there are two listings for the Reno area: ‘Hawthorne Tourist Home’ at 542 Valley Road and ‘Floyd Garner Tourist Home’ at 857 E. 2nd Street. Neither exists today, having been replaced by an industrial building and parking lot, respectively.
It should also be noted that discrimination can go the other way too. Several people with disabilities have run rough-shot over California business, using the ‘American’s with Disabilities Act,’ to create ‘nuisance lawsuits,’ forcing owners to correct deficiencies in public restrooms, entrance ways, parking lots, side walks, counters tops and tables, while collecting cash-awards from fines levied in the suits.
As American Philosopher George Santayana is oft quoted, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”