The Event: Racially and economically motivated riot and expulsion directed against Sikh laborers
Date: September, 1907
Location: Bellingham, Washington
Significance: During the first decade of the twentieth century, Asian Indian immigrants, most of whom practiced the Sikh faith, working in the United States met organized discrimination and even violence.
Asian Indians began to leave India around 1900 to earn money for their families in India and for the independence movement of India against Great Britain. Most were men and identified as members of the Sikh faith. Between 1900 and 1905, several hundred immigrated to the United States and British Columbia, Canada. Since Sikhs often understood English and were hard workers, some Canadian employers began to promote Sikh immigration. In 1907, more than two thousand Asian Indian men arrived in Canada, most of them Sikhs. More than one thousand Asian Indians immigrated to the United States in 1907, hundreds of whom were Sikh laborers crossing the border from Canada. Just south of the border, the town of Bellingham in Washington State had about 250 Asian Indian immigrants, mostly Sikh, working in its lumber mills by September, 1907.
Prejudices against Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants along theWest Coast were strong by 1907, and the Asian Indian workers in Bellingham became targets, too. Movements against Chinese immigrants during the nineteenth century were driven by white workers’ racism and fear of economic competition with the newcomers. These movements expanded into broad anti-Asian agitation during the twentieth century. In 1905 in San Francisco, the Asiatic Exclusion League formed to block Asian immigrants, particularly those from China and Japan. In Bellingham, the league had eight hundred members by 1907. While the radical Industrial Workers of the World criticized anti- Asian hostility, most unions supported it.OnLabor Day, September 2, 1907, hundreds of union advocates marched in Bellingham against the Sikh immigrants. Calling the Sikhs "Hindus” (falsely believing that Asian Indians all practiced the Hindu religion), marchers demanded that mill owners fire all "Hindus” immediately.
Sikh workers reported for work on September 3, but that night roving vigilantes targeted Sikh residences. The next evening, September 4, a mob of 150 men and boys formed and surged through Bellingham, assaulting some Sikhs and forcing others from bunkhouses and mills into the basement of Bellingham’s city hall.Upto five hundred participants eventually joined in the coercive roundup. Police officers cooperated, claiming that this calmed the vigilantes and reduced violence.
On September 5, with up to two hundred Sikhs held captive, Bellingham’s mayor claimed that the city could protect anyone who wished to stay in Bellingham. However, the obvious failure of the police to stop the previous night’s coercion convinced Sikh laborers not to trust the mayor. A Sikh spokesman stated that all "Hindus” would leave Bellingham by September 7. Approximately half went to Canada and half to California.
No attackers were brought to trial, and most white people in Bellingham apparently supported the expulsion, combining racism with economic fears to justify their approval. A few falsely claimed that Sikh men deserved expulsion because they insulted white women, but most argued that by accepting lower pay and inferior housing, immigrant Asian Indians undercut unions’ efforts to improve economic benefits for white laborers. Waves of anti-Sikh, anti-Asian Indian protests spread from Bellingham north to Alaska and Canada, and south to towns inWashington State and California. Asian Indian immigrants would not return to Bellingham for many decades after the 1907 expulsion. Immigration from India and other parts of Asia to the United States was stopped entirely during the 1920’s, but by the early twenty-first century Bellingham was a more welcoming home for Asian Indian immigrants and recognized the one hundredth anniversary of the Bellingham incident with apologies and commemorations against all anti-immigrant discrimination.
Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.
Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.
Lee, Erika. "Hemispheric Orientalism and the 1907 Pacific Coast Race Riots.” Amerasia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007): 19-47.
See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Economic consequences of immigration; Employment; Industrial Workers of the World; Labor unions; Washington State.Read the full story
The secret societies founded in China several centuries ago to combat unjust rulers often turned to criminality. During the mid-nineteenth century, following the discovery of gold in California, many members of these societies emigrated to the United States.Read the full story
The Event: Systematic attempt by Germany’s Nazi regime to exterminate European Jews
Date: Late 1930’s to mid-1940’s
Location: German-occupied European countries
Significance: During World War II and the years leading up to it, European Jews were the principal victims of German chancellor Adolf Hitler’s genocidal policies. Many fled eastern and western Europe, attempting to enter the United States.
Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis arriving in Belgium in June, 1939, after they were turned away from Cuba. More than one-quarter of the refugees eventually died in the Holocaust. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Between 1933, which saw the Nazis’ rise to power, and Germany’s 1945 surrender that ended World War II, more than 345,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria. Many of them initially fled to countries that were later occupied by Germany, and these Jews subsequently left again or were murdered. Although about 85,000 Jewish refugees reached the United States between March, 1938, and September, 1939, far greater numbers were seeking refuge. However, when U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the United States was preoccupied with the challenges of the Great Depression—high unemployment and widespread social disillusionment—which contributed to public resistance to any relaxation of immigration quotas. Another factor in opposing specifically Jewish immigration was anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish sentiment was on the rise during the 1920’s; it increased dramatically during the early 1930’s and reached its peak in America during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
In 1939, the United States refused to admit more than 900 refugees who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on the SS St. Louis. After being turned away from Cuba, the ship appeared off the coast of Florida. After the United States denied it permission to land, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium each accepted some of the passengers as refugees. Of the ship’s 908 passengers, 254 are known to have died in the Holocaust. The event was widely publicized.
News of the true extent of the Holocaust began to reach the United States only in 1941—the year in the United States entered World War II. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of State placed even stricter limits on immigration due to national security concerns. The threat of enemy subversion during the war was a legitimate concern, but the State Department exaggerated the problem and used it as a reason for cutting in half the already small immigration quotas. In 1943, 400 Jewish rabbis marched on Washington, D.C., to draw attention to what was happening to Holocaust victims. Only a handful of politicians met with the marchers, but one of them, Senator William Warren Barbour of New Jersey, proposed legislation that would have permitted 100,000 Holocaust refugees to enter the United States temporarily. Barbour’s bill failed to pass, and another, similar bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Samuel Dickstein of New York, also failed to pass.
In 1944, President Roosevelt, pressured by government officials and the American Jewish community, took action. He established the War Refugee Board to facilitate the rescue of refugees in imminent danger. The American Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress worked with the board to help rescue many thousands of Jews in Hungary, Romania, and other European nations. However, government funding for the board was so small that 91 percent of its work was funded by American Jewish organizations. The board conducted a monthlong campaign to persuade Roosevelt to offer temporary shelter to large numbers of refugees, but it yielded only one result. In the spring of that year, Roosevelt established Fort Ontario, New York, as a free port for refugees. However, only a few thousand were allowed to enter, and these were people from liberated countries who were under no immediate threat of deportation to Germany. Roosevelt’s response to Holocaust immigration was strongly influenced by political concerns. During an era of strong antiimmigration sentiment, any move to increase immigration might well have cost him votes in elections.
Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor as president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, favored an immigration policy that was liberal toward displaced persons, but Congress failed to act on his proposals. On December 22, 1945, Truman issued an executive order, called the Truman Directive, requiring that existing immigration quotas be designated for displaced persons. Although total U.S. immigration figures did not increase, many more displaced persons were admitted to the United States. Between the end of 1945 and early 1947, about 22,950 displaced persons entered the United States under the new Truman Directive. About 16,000 of these refugees were Jewish.
Before existing immigration quotas could be increased, congressional action was necessary. Pressured intensely by lobbying on the part of the American Jewish community, Congress passed legislation in 1948 to admit about 400,000 displaced persons to the United States. Nearly 80,000 of those who arrived, or about 20 percent, were Jewish. Other immigrants included Christians from eastern Europe and the Baltic nations who had worked as forced laborers under the Nazi regime. American entry laws favored agricultural workers to such a degree, however, that Truman found the new law discriminatory to Jews, few of whom were agricultural workers. By the 1950’s, Congress amended the law, but by that time most of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe had entered the new state of Israel, which was established on May 14, 1948.
Thanks in large part to the influx of Jews during and after the Holocaust, the United States emerged as the largest and most culturally innovative Jewish center in the world after World War II. Smaller centers of Jewish population worldwide soon turned to the vigorous Jewish establishments in the United States for help and support. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, Jews in the United States had risen to leadership positions in government, the media, entertainment, popular culture, business, labor relations, law, and the arts.
Sheila Golburgh Johnson
See also: American Jewish Committee; Angloconformity; Anti-Semitism; Center for Immigration Studies; Congress, U.S.; Films; German immigrants; Jewish immigrants; Quota systems; Refugee Relief Act of 1953; Refugees; World War II.Read the full story