One cheer for the 1905 Press Democrat: Racism that year wasn’t nearly as awful as in 1904. But a hiss for the Republican newspaper: What did you have against Japanese-Americans?
News items demeaning Chinese, Black, and Native American local residents appeared repeatedly in the 1904 Press Democrat. Reports of simple events, even weddings, were sometimes expanded into racist vignettes by someone at the paper who mistakenly thought he possessed a talent for writing dialect humor. Race was also just below the surface in writings about the 1904 election, particularly as Finley expressed shock over an African-American child appearing onstage at the Republican Convention, warning it was a portent of dreaded racial integration. But aside from editorial outrage that President Teddy Roosevelt had appointed an African-American to a position of authority, the PD was mostly silent on matters of race in 1905.
Compared here is Press Democrat and Republican coverage of the same event in the Chinese community. Press Democrat coverage is restrained, almost indifferent, except for the two regrettable uses of the old-timey “Celestial” stereotype. Aside for an inappropriate stab at humor (“post mortem spirito-creature”?) the Republican’s offering was superior in every respect, and included details about participation of members of the white community that will likely be interesting to sociologists.
The Shame Award for 1905, however, goes to the Santa Rosa Republican. Their description of a party of drunken Japanese workers was a throwback to the sort of crap the Press Democrat published the year before, filled with racial slurs, fanciful details that the writer could not possibly have known, and told in a manner inviting ridicule.
Even with all its ethnic bashing in 1904, the Press Democrat held back from attacking Japanese-Americans. The Japanese community had deep social roots in the county, and it probably didn’t hurt that Japanese-American businesses, such as the “Japanese Employment Office,” were regular advertisers in the PD. Over at the Republican, racist slurs were never found under previous editor Allen B. Lemmon, and the new owners, transplants from the more cosmopolitan Oakland newspaper scene, appeared to share his progressive views. So why did the Republican trash its ethical standards to crudely insult the Japanese community? I’m puzzled, but can offer a few guesses.
Although unlikely, it’s worth considering that the story, factual or not, was published as some sort of a swipe at Ernest L. Finley and his Press Democrat. When this item appeared, the PD-Republican feud had escalated leagues beyond the “flapdoodle” between Finley and Lemmon the year earlier. Finley had started the fight with the new owners in March 1905, ridiculing them with a series of parody ads (blog post coming) that were probably side-splitting funny when read loudly in a saloon, but now just seem mean. The newsprint jousting turned serious in August, however, when the Republican charged the rival paper with tolerating criminal activities in town on behalf of its cronies (blog post coming about that, too). From then on, the editors took op/ed potshots at the other side nearly every day. The fumes were so toxic that anything that appeared anywhere in either paper at this time should be considered a possible veiled attack on their foe. Most of the tie-ins to their fusty newspaper war are no longer apparent today, of course. Honestly, interpreting these old papers is sometimes like being a Kremlinologist.
Another possibility is that the Republican’s shameful article was motivated by new anti-Japanese racism within the California GOP. Earlier that year, San Francisco labor unions had created the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, seeking to expand the ban on Chinese “coolie” labor to include other Asian workers. Their champion in Congress was Rep. E. A. Hayes (R-San Jose), whose March 13, 1906 Japanese exclusion speech launched years of discrimination that would cumulate about twenty years later with a ban on virtually all Japanese immigration to America. Neither 1905 Santa Rosa paper mentioned the formation of the discriminatory League (which is odd, considering both took every opportunity to editorialize about other aspects of San Francisco politics), so it’s unknown what, if any, influence the organization had on the editorial position of the Santa Rosa Republican.
A third option is that the story was intended as a strained metaphor to lampoon the Russo-Japanese War, which had ended with Japanese victory just three weeks earlier. After being almost continuously on the front pages since the start of 1904, readers knew well the names of Yamamoto and Ito, both Japanese admirals. Also note the descriptions of the prizes: a statue of the “Emperor of Japan doing Hari-Kari to the Czar” and an oil painting of the Japanese flag flying on the courthouse in downtown Santa Rosa. Don’t think so.
But there’s yet another explanation that’s simplest of all, and thus the most likely: Was this noxious anti-Japanese story in the Republican authored by the same reporter who penned the racist stories in the Press Democrat a year earlier? Articles were never bylined in these papers, but the writing style here is quite similar to the hateful vignettes found in the 1904 PD, and this piece is likewise rich in fantastic details. That the reporter (let’s call him “Racist Ralph”) was hired away by the other paper would also explain the decrease of anti-Black, anti-Indian, and anti-Chinese reporting in the 1905 Press Democrat (again, the PD was hardly bias-free that year; it was just less contemptible). Even if the writing of the detestable stories of 1904 and 1905 all can be blamed on Racist Ralph, however, the disgrace of these articles appearing in the daily papers still falls to the editors.
Deceased Aged Chinese Woman Buried Yesterday
The aged Chinese woman, Kee Haw, who died on Second street last Wednesday, was buried yesterday by her countrymen in the county cemetery. She had lived in this city for some time and her death was from natural causes. The woman was very poor and a number of Chinese with some of the white neighbors provided the burial expenses and several of the white children in the vicinity of her late home placed a few flowers on the cheap coffin. Somewhat different was the Oriental contribution to the dead — a bowl of rice and two chop sticks for her post mortem spirito-creature wants.
On the way to the cemetery a Chinese rode on the hearse with the driver and scattered prayer papers along the way. These were propitiate the unseen attendant devils who play the star part in the Mongolian’s religious belief. After a time, if the deceased has any friends either in this country or in China, her bones will be disinterred, sewed up in a little white sack and shipped home across the wide Pacific. If not, her dust will lie and mingle with those of the occident.
– Santa Rosa Republican, April 21, 1905
Chinese Woman Buried
Mrs. Kee Haw, a Chinese woman, who died on Second street on Wednesday, was buried Thursday morning in the county cemetery. A Celestial rode beside the driver on the hearse and let the customary shower of slips of paper fall en route to the cemetery. On top of the grave the roast pork and chicken was placed in due form and Celestials carried out the other fancies of their burial exercises.
– Press Democrat, April 21, 1905
YAMAMOTO’S EUCHRE PARTY
His Guests Pulled Their Guns and Shot the Three Prizes Into Ruins
Mr. Oki Yamamoto, the proprietor of a Japanese boarding house in Cloverdale, gave a progressive euchre party at his spacious shack Sunday night. He invited all his countrymen from the surrounding vineyards and hop yards and the guests assembled early. Four large boxes helped out the three tables and by 8 o’clock the little brown players were pitching “jokers” and “bowers” at each other fast and furious.
Refreshments were served bountifully in large glasses and this had a tendency to make the games over-interesting. Landlord Yamamoto noticed a spirit of battle breaking out in spots among his growing-noisy guests but with a section of hop-pole he knocked down several of the most truculent of his fellow patriots and kept white-winged peace present through roosting p [sic] on the roof to be out of the storm center below.
Presently Mr. John Kinno, who had gone oftenest to the fountain — said fountain being the host’s demijohn of red, red wine — broke out. He thought he saw Mr. Ito Hikikito lifting two jacks from a cold deck in his jumper pocket. With a frying pan which he grabbed from a near-by stove he soaked [sic] Hikikito over his dark brown head. Ito, bubbling with the war spirit of his great namesake, climbed from the floor where he had laid down and slept for a few moments just subsequent to his meeting with the frying pan, hurled several loud “banzais” and pulled his gun. Other guns appeared and white-wing peace turned in her hat check and left. One Jap got a chunk of lead driven into his muscular brown arm and another son of Nippon had one of his ribs scraped by a Smith & Wesson ball. The lights were shot out in true Caucasian style and the mirror in the proprietor’s sleeping room was put out of commission. Several shot holes in clothing and walls were made.
But the most desperate damage was done the three euchre prizes which were on exhibition in the room. One was a tiny statue group representing the Emperor of Japan doing Hari-Kari to the Czar — a masterpiece of art, the second an oil painting of the Court House in Santa Rosa with the sunburst flag of the Jap flying over the building, a prophesy, and the third prize a small keg of rare old wine from the Fountaingrove winery. When the smoke had cleared away the first two prizes were found ruined, but the keg had disappeared.
The gunners and their guns had disappeared when the Constable’s posse broke in the door and only Mr. Yamamoto was present. He assured the “honorable” American gentleman that no trouble had occurred in his “dishonorable” habitation, in fact he had just awakened from a dream of peace in his “mean” sleeping place. No arrests.
– Santa Rosa Republican, October 17, 1905