This special section documents Bellingham, Washington’s 1907 anti-South Asian riot and hosts the documentary video, Present In All That We Do.
Located in the northwest corner of Washington State, just shy of the Canadian border, Bellingham boomed in the early 20th century as a center of extractive industries like mining, fishing and timber. Workers from all over the world arrived in Bellingham looking for jobs, including a sizable number from Asia.
In the early 1900s, Asian immigrants numbered in the hundreds and were a substantial presence in Bellingham, sustaining small communities with their own restaurants, pool halls and barber shops. Yet, due to sustained campaigns of racism and exclusion, little to nothing of these communities remains in the city today. By 1950, city census numbers reported a mere eight individuals of Asian ancestry.
The most visible manifestation of these campaigns was the riot of 1907. A group of South Asian migrant workers arrived in Bellingham in 1906, employed mostly in the city’s lumber mills. Immediately, white labor leaders demanded the South Asian workers be expelled from the city, claiming the newcomers took jobs away from white workers and drove down wages.
On September 4, 1907, the demands of white labor culminated in a vicious riot. White workers broke into lumber mills and pulled South Asians from their work, then entered South Asian bunkhouses, destroying property and stealing valuables. All night, South Asians were driven to the city limits; others were taken to the city jail by police, ostensibly for protection. Within days, the South Asian community was gone, having been, in the approving words of one local newspaper, “wiped off the map.”
The riot, and the persistant racist campaigns that led to it and continued long after it, continue to have lasting effects on Bellingham today. Only since United States immigration reform in the 1960s have any substantial amount of non-white immigrants returned to Whatcom County.
This special section on the 1907 Bellingham riots was created by Andrew Hedden, based on historical material collected for the film Present In All That We Do. It includes the film itself, an historical essay by David Cahn, a collection of newspaper articles, as well as archival photographs and documents. Special thanks to Paul Englesberg for assistance with this on-line presentation.
The 1907 Bellingham Riots in Historical Context. By David Cahn. The 1907 riots in Bellingham were part of a much larger wave of anti-Asian violence along the Pacific coast. The campaigns culminated in racist immigration laws that excluded Asians and denied them U.S. citizenship.
Film: Present In All That We Do. To this day, the 1907 riots are relatively unknown in Bellingham, WA. This video documentary, produced to mark the 100th anniversary of the riots, recounts Bellingham’s history of anti-immigrant racism and explores the consequences of the lack of knowledge of it on the city today. It is presented here in streaming video.
Newspaper Coverage: The 1907 riots in Bellingham are largely known to us through press accounts of the time. Newspaper editors were generally sympathetic with the rioters, and news coverage reflected this overt racism. Here iare news headlines with links to articles and photos of their respective papers, from 1907, as well as commemorative articles that appeared in Bellingham’s press in 2007.