Remembering a Troubled Past

Posted by on Aug 18, 2022 in United States

In 1880, an argument started between several customers in a saloon in Denver, Colorado. It eventually led to an anti-Chinese riot that destroyed businesses in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood and killed one person. In 2022, the City of Denver officially apologized to the city’s Asian American community for its role in the riot. The city also removed a plaque commemorating the event that offended members of Denver’s Asian American community.  

What Happened? 

On October 31, 1880, two white men and two Chinese men began fighting in John Asmussen’s Saloon. The fight spilled out into the street. The fighting drew a crowd that began destroying businesses and attacking people in Denver’s Chinatown neighborhood. A Chinese man named Look Young was beaten and killed by the people targeting the Chinese residents. No one was ever punished for killing Young or for destroying every single business in Chinatown. The site of the riot was later recognized with a historical plaque. 

A Formal Apology 

In April 2022, the City of Denver formally apologized for its role in the riot. At the ceremony, members of Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU) talked about the impact that the riot still has on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Denver today. CAPU Vice Chair Joie Ha noted that especially for older generations of Denver’s AAPI community, having the city acknowledge the riot is the first step towards being able to heal from its effects. The City of Denver also noted that it is important to bring these events to light in order to educate residents who might not be aware of them.  

Why Was the Plaque Removed? 

A historical plaque that described the event was located at the intersection of 20th Street and Blake Street. The Chinese American community in Denver criticized the plaque’s accuracy. First, it did not name Look Young as a victim of the riot, saying only that a “Chinese man lost his life.” The plaque, however, listed four white people by name who protected Chinese victims. It referred to the event as the “Chinese Riot of 1880,” when really it was an anti-Chinese riot. And the plaque’s location at 20thStreet and Blake Street is not where the violence occurred.  

On August 8, 2022, the City of Denver removed the plaque. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock gave a speech acknowledging the city’s past failings in how it has treated and responded to the riot. The plaque was officially taken down by William Wei, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and former Colorado State Historian. Wei was joined by members of CAPU. The plaque was given to History Colorado, a museum. The museum’s curator noted that now the plaque is where it belongs: in the past. 

Dig Deeper More than 150 anti-Chinese riots and attacks took place in the United States during the 1870s and 1880s. Conduct research to find out why anti-Chinese sentiment was occurring in the United States during this time.