Raise a weak cheer for the Santa Rosa newspapers in 1906; their reporting on people of color was certainly better than the two previous years, but that only means the dial was turned down slightly from red-zone disgusting levels.
Start with the Great Earthquake: Four Chinese men and a Japanese man died that horrible morning, all at either the Saint Rose or Occidental hotels. Hooray that the papers didn’t refer to them as “Chinks” or “Japs,” but they were identified only by race, whereas Whites usually had their occupation and/or place of death described. (For the record, two of the Chinese men were merchants, two were cooks, and the Japanese man worked as a dishwasher at the St. Rose.) But any effects of the quake in Santa Rosa’s “Chinatown” on Second Street and non-fatal injuries of community members were ignored. Sure, perhaps there was no damage there and no one was harmed, but that’s very hard to believe, considering it was only two blocks from the worst of the fires and devastation. More likely that it was a textbook example of racism by omission.
The most contentious racial incident occurred in March, when a local bricklaying contractor misled African-American workers from Los Angeles into coming here to break a strike. A group of out-of-town masons confronted a Black man in a bar, mistakenly believing that he was part of the group from LA, and a fight broke out. The two newspapers printed quite different accounts of the incident; in the version told by the Republican, the man was attacked by a mob – but in the Press Democrat, he was a troublemaker who “ran amuck.”
Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley gets both the highest and lowest marks for racial coverage that year. In December, the newspaper ran a perfectly matter-of-fact report about “Charles Jefferson, a colored man” being assaulted for tipping his hat to a White woman. Yet a few months earlier, the paper had printed a ginned-up story about “a foxy Chinaman. Ah Wang” who supposedly allowed himself to be arrested to gain a free ride from Geyserville to Santa Rosa. That story, complete with pidgin dialect, read like a tale whipped up in a saloon. It was a shameful throwback to the tired, racist crap that the PD routinely published in years past.
FOXY CHINK A GOOD JESTER
Gets Free Ride From Geyserville to Santa Rosa, and After Minute or Two in Jail Pays His Fine
Talk about a foxy Chinaman. Ah Wang holds the record, aided and abetted by a well known Santa Rosa lawyer, Reuben M. Swain, Esq., Referee in bankruptcy, etc.
Ah Wang was tried before the Geyserville justice on Wednesday on a charge of having attempted to induce a young girl there to enter his room. He was acquitted on this charge, as the evidence did not sustain the complaint. Then a second complaint was filed against him, and he was convicted and fined twenty-five dollars or twenty-five days in the county jail.
He was brought to jail here, and no sooner had he been given into the custody of the officer in charge of the county bastille than he set about paying his fine.
In the eyes of the law after his entry and reception in jail and the turning of the key in the lock he had served one day of his sentence and consequently in order to regain his liberty he had only to put up twenty-four dollars. He had some money and borrowed the rest from his attorney, Mr. Swain, who had been to Geyserville to defend him. He then paid his fine.
It seems that the Celestial desired to make the trip to Santa Rosa anyway, and by having the constable bring him to jail he saved the price of the face [sic] from the northern town. By going to jail for a few minutes he served a day of his sentence and thus saved another dollar.
“Me heap sabee law, you bet, I likee advice Judge Swain, you bet,” was his gleeful comment.– Press Democrat, August 16, 1906
WHITE MAN HITS COLORED MAN
Attack Made at the Corner of Third and Main Streets on Thursday Afternoon
Charles Jefferson, a colored man, who has been employed as stableman in a stable on lower Fourth Street, was the victim of an assault on Thursday afternoon at Third and Main streets at the hands of a white man.
The colored man lifted his hat to a passing lady, whose son keeps his horse at the stable, as she was approaching a buggy at the sidewalk. The perpetrator of the assault stepped up and with the exclamation: “I’ll teach you to take off your hat to women in this country,” struck Jefferson a violent blow in the mouth and felled him to the ground, and then, according to the statement of Contractor Rushing, who says he witnessed the assault, kicked him while down.
Jefferson could make no effort catch his assailant. Contractor Rushing tried to stop him as he ran off. The injured man later swore out a John Doe warrant for his assailant’s arrest in Judge Atchinson’s court, and the warrant was given to Constable Boswell to put into execution. The lady to whom Jefferson said he doffed his cap called at the police station and said the attack on the colored man was entirely unprovoked. She did not see Jefferson’s salute, as it happened, and said it would have been all right anyway, as she had seen the man frequently when she went to the stable with her horse, and had always found his respectful. Jefferson’s face was badly cut.– Press Democrat, December 21, 1906
A COLORED MAN IS BRUTALLY ASSAULTED
Because a colored man attempted to be polite to Mrs. Birdie Miller on Third street Thursday evening, he was brutally assaulted. He was first knocked down by a vicious blow in the mouth, and then kicked in the face while he was prostate on the ground. The man who made the assault ran away in a cowardly fashion after injuring the man he assaulted. Mrs. Miller is incensed at the treatment given the colored man who had spoken to her, and so expressed herself to Justice A. J. Atchinson and others after assault. The man works in a livery stable where Mrs. Miller’s son keeps his his horse and she drives in there frequently. It has come to a pretty pass when an inoffensive man is brutally assaulted for being polite.
Contractor W. E. Rushing witnessed the assault and he characterizes it as a piece of dastardly work. He attempted to overtake the fleeting man, but was unsuccessful, and later informed the officers where the man was employed and gave a description of him.
Charles Jefferson is the man assaulted and he bears a reputation of being peaceable. He has never been in trouble during the months he has been in Santa Rosa and he deeply regrets the unfortunate occurance. He was given no opportunity to defend himself and the savage kick he received in the face opened a large place on his forehead between the eyes from which blood flowed freely. Jefferson said later he would like to be turned loose with the man who struck him in a field so he could get a chance at him.
A warrant was sworn to by Jefferson for the arrest of his assailant and Constable Boswell made a search for the man without avail Thursday evening. The man was seen by several persons and later talked to others of what he had done and will be pointed out to the officers at the earliest possible moment and taken into custody.– Santa Rosa Republican, December 21, 1906