In 1885, the Union Pacific Railroad employed 500 coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, two-thirds of whom were Chinese. White miners, angry that the railroad was hiring Chinese miners to take their jobs, decided to drive the Chinese out of Rock Springs.
On September 2, 1885, a dispute broke out between white and Chinese miners when both groups wanted to work in the same part of the mine. Later that day, 100 whites gathered with guns, hatchets, and knives and marched toward “Chinatown,” where the Chinese lived, to brutally attack and riot against them. The Chinese workers attempted to flee but the white miners fired at them while they ran.
Twenty-eight Chinese people were killed in the massacre and another fifteen were badly wounded. The white miners looted and burned all seventy-nine houses belonging to the Chinese, leaving “Chinatown” demolished. In the days following the riot, federal troops were brought in to establish order. They set up camp between the white area of town and “Chinatown,” to prevent more violence, and remained there for the next thirteen years. Although fourteen miners were arrested in connection with the riot and murders, no one was ever convicted of a crime.
Today, there is little evidence of the massacre. There is no burial ground for the victims because at the time “Orientals” were banned from white cemeteries; instead, the victims were cremated and their ashes returned to China. Congress eventually authorized an indemnity to China in the amount of $147,748, but the United States government never assumed legal responsibility for the massacre.
On the 100th anniversary of the massacre, historians from Western Wyoming College placed a plaque in Rock Springs City Park, which reads: “This riot was precipitated by a decade-long deliberate company policy of importing Chinese miners to lower wages, break strikes and neutralize efforts to organize labor unions. Abetting the violence and cruelty was a virulent nationwide racism that viewed the Chinese as willing slave laborers and morally degenerate.”
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.