White mob gathers to expel Asian Indian laborers from Everett on November 2, 1907.

  • By Lisa Labovitch
  • Posted 6/04/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21247

On November 2, 1907, several hundred white laborers and boys assemble near the residences of Asian Indian workers in the employ of three Everett mills. Though the demonstration's organizers state that the gathering is meant to be peaceful, violence erupts and the residences are vandalized. The Indian workers seek refuge in the city jail and permanently leave Everett shortly after. The upheaval is the culmination of weeks of increasingly hostile behavior by the citizens of Everett toward Asian Indian labor and is part of a series of anti-Asian protests that sweep the West Coast in the fall of 1907.

Increasing Tensions

In the late 1800s young Asian Indian men, mostly from the Punjab region, began to migrate to North America in search of economic opportunities. Many had previously served in the British Indian Army or been hired on by British steamship companies. Vancouver, British Columbia, became a common point of entry because of Canada's inclusion in the British Empire and resultant ease of immigration. Upon arrival in Canada, many immigrants continued traveling down the coast from British Columbia into the United States to seek employment.

Though this path of migration was used for almost 20 years, only about 2,000 Asian Indians were estimated to be working along the United States Pacific coast by 1907. Despite this relatively low number, local workers felt threatened by what they saw as an increasing influx of Asian labor willing to work for a lower wage than their white counterparts.

This undercurrent of anti-Asian agitation became more formalized in 1905 with the formation of the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League in San Francisco. The organization was created by members of the Building Trades Council of San Francisco and headed by powerful local labor leaders. The league and its ideals quickly spread throughout the Pacific Coast of the United States and into Canada; it would later be renamed the Asiatic Exclusion League to better represent the broader scope of its aims.

Unrest in Washington State

Early in 1907, the Washington State Federation of Labor met in Tacoma for its annual convention. Proceedings included discussions of issues facing the white working class of the region. The meeting also attracted Canadian delegates. Vancouver delegate M. A. Beach spoke at length on what he viewed as the negative impacts of the influx of Asian laborers and the need of transnational brotherhood of laborers dedicated to preserving higher-paying jobs held by white workers. At this time, white labor leaders and workers frequently traveled around the Pacific Northwest to different industrial centers to lobby for immigration restriction and assist in the formation of anti-Asiatic organizations. In his address, Beach stated, "We in British Columbia have existing conditions which are very dangerous to the welfare of the white wage-earners, namely the Japanese, Chinese, and Hindoo" (Chang, 678). [It should be noted here that in most of the contemporary accounts, Asian Indian workers were referred to as Hindus or Hindoos, though most were likely Sikh as inferred by their wearing of traditional turbans known as dastār and their long beards.]

In February of 1907, C. O. Young, the chief organizer for the American Federation of Labor in the Pacific Northwest was quoted as saying about Asian immigrants that "there is nothing un-American" about "stand[ing] up in defense of this country as a white man's country ... we cannot assimilate those nations and their people; we cannot intermarry with them, nor can we adopt their conditions of life; we do not want anything to do with them as far as their conditions and religions are concerned; and as far as their foreign trade is concerned" (Chang, 685). This fear of being forced to accept the "conditions" of Asian workers was repeatedly used as a motivator for opposing their acceptance into workforces. White workers associated the willingness of Asian Indian laborers to accept lower wages with cultural attributes like vegetarianism and sending most of their wages back to their families abroad rather than spending locally; some justified paying them less because they appeared to need less. It was felt that the white laborer needed higher wages to maintain their own styles of consumption, and that accepting lower wages, even for less demanding jobs, would threaten white supremacy.

Unease in Everett

On September 4, 1907, organizers were finalizing plans for a large anti-Asian demonstration in Seattle when a mob of white workers attacked Asian Indian workers in Bellingham to compel them to leave. On September 9, the Everett Daily Herald reported that a mob had brutally attacked the Japanese and Chinese communities in Vancouver, B.C., and that Asian Indians in Everett were growing nervous. Some were making plans to leave. It was estimated that 50 individuals were employed at three mills: Clark-Nickerson Lumber, Robinson Manufacturing, and Weidauer-Lansdown. The owners of these mills claimed they were unable to find white workers to fill low-wage positions.

Those who chose to remain in Everett requested that the police protect their residence at 2601 Norton Avenue, which had been stoned by what the author of the article suggested were boys rather than adults. This assertion that Asian Indian men were either subdued or frightened by boys was a repeated theme in coverage of the Bellingham riot and the events in Everett, though in both cases the main organizers and perpetrators of the violence and harassment were adult men. On a very local and personal level, neighbors on Norton Avenue stated that they objected to the presence of "foreigners ... of unsanitary habits" on their street ("Everett Hindus ...").

The Everett press became preoccupied with stories that reflected the anxiety and animosity directed at Asian Indians. On September 10, The Herald ran a syndicated article about an Asian Indian mystic named Baba Bharati (ca 1859-1914), who prophesied that the East would retaliate against the West for its continued mistreatment of Asian people. He claimed that because the West had shown only violence to the East, the Chinese and Japanese people would someday combine forces to fight back with "guns of destruction more powerful than the world has never known" ("East Will Retaliate"). On the same front page ran an article about white workers in Aberdeen attacking Asian Indian workers. The next day the Herald reported that displaced Asian Indian men in Seattle, newly arrived from the North, had taken to cutting their hair, shaving their beards, and donning medals earned in the service of the British Indian Army in order to gain the respect of the locals. When one man was asked why he changed his appearance, he responded, "They see our turbans and throw stones at us. We asked for work and man tells us, 'You have too much work carrying that around on your head.' White men do not like long hair and turbans. Boys hit us with stones. We cut off hair and get hats" ("Wears Medal ...").

On September 11, members of the trades council in Everett met to discuss the question of Asian Indian labor. No actions were decided upon, but it was noted that if the businessmen and mill owners of Everett agreed that it was in their best interests to do without Asian Indian labor, "they could very easily persuade the latter to leave town" ("Talk Hindu Question").

Appeals for Help

On September 16, the Herald reported that 41 Asian Indian residents of Everett had signed a petition sent to the British consulate in Portland to inform their representative that they were "in mortal fear of bodily injury at the hands of white workmen in [the] city" ("Everett Hindus Appeal ..."). In response to the petition, Consul James Laidlaw (1847-1913) began corresponding with Everett's Mayor Newton Jones (1866-1922). Laidlaw's communications cautioned that the claims of his petitioners might turn out to be baseless but pointed to recent violence Bellingham and Vancouver as a possible outcome to guard against.

Jones, himself a mill owner with ties to the Seaside Shingle and Hyena mills, acknowledged the complaints of the Asian Indian residents, though he downplayed any threat of violence in Everett. He countered that the best way to avoid trouble was to limit further immigration from India to Everett. At worst, he said he felt that continued employment of outside labor would lead to strikes, but nothing violent in nature. Labor leaders praised Jones for his strong stance, and the Herald noted that the trades council planned to ask the city council to form a committee of businessmen who would urge employers of Asian Indian laborers to stop hiring them.

Union Resolutions

A committee comprising P. E. Larson (possibly Peter A. Lassen of Everett Interior Finishing Co.), Samuel C. Boyd (1859-1922) of Everett Laundry, Ernest P. Marsh (1877-1963) of Everett Shingle Co., J. Michael, T. N. Phillips, and Fred C. Mackey (1867-1918) of Washington Stove Works prepared a set of resolutions to submit to Mayor Jones concerning the hiring of Asian Indian laborers. The committee claimed to have endorsements from all unions, though some had yet to formally approve them. The resolutions were eventually submitted with the seals of the trades council, as well as the laundry workers, cement workers, shingleweavers, mill workers, cigar makers, and retail clerks unions. A full transcript was printed in the Everett Daily Herald:

"Whereas, There is a universal agitation at this time on the Pacific coast relative to the exclusion of undesirable emigrants, viz., the Japanese, Koreans, Hindoos, Chinese, etc., and that said agitation has been augmented by the fact that in British Columbia those races above motioned are being landed by shipload almost daily, and from the further fact that it is conceded that the actual destination of a great portion of these emigrants is finally that portion of the United States bordering on Canada. Especially so of the Hindoos and Japanese, who are congregating in the border cities and naturally will distribute to the cities throughout the coast, and being employed by the mills and factories at low wages to the exclusion of the white race, who are unable to live on the meager diet of rice and curry, and

Whereas, Lately the unrest of the white population of the cities of Bellingham, Washington, and Vancouver, B.C., has culminated in the uncommendable attempts on the part of citizens of these cities to take the law in their own hands, to eliminate by force those races mentioned, bringing their cities into dispute by lawlessness; and Whereas, The city of Everett being near the boundary line, is receiving its portion of those undesirables, for the most part Hindoos, who are being employed in the mills at a low wage, which has necessarily caused much discontent among our citizens, therefore

Be it Resolved, By the Everett Trades Council, That a committee be appointed to submit these resolutions to the honorable mayor of the city of Everett asking his aid in inducing the business men and citizens to appoint a committee to confer with the employers of said Hindoo laborers with a view to secure the employers' consent to refuse further employment to that class of labor, thus preventing a possible repetition of the disorderly scenes of Bellingham and Vancouver. Realizing that it would redound to the credit of our fair city and impress other communities that we can settle matters of such magnitude by co-operation of both employer and employee and endorsed on the general public, and,

Be It Further Resolved, That the Everett Trades council is unalterably opposed to mob violence, and desires to inform the public that the organizers represented in said council are composed to a great extent, of men who own their own homes in this city, and whose interests are such that their greatest desire is that no discredit befall their home city. Thus they desire that a peaceable solution of the question at issue be immediately brought about. It must be borne in mind, however, that while our organizations do not indorse or commend such actions of violence as occurred in Bellingham and Vancouver, we do not control all the elements of society, and any action taken outside of our organization, we, like any other civic body, are powerless to prevent" (Everett Daily Herald, September 23, 1907, p. 4).

Mayor Jones responded that the resolutions seemed reasonable, and that motivated unions should be capable of producing enough white laborers willing to take over the jobs occupied by Asian labor. He believed that mill owners should meet the unions halfway by dismissing Asian labor in favor of employing white laborers at a slightly higher rate because they "should be given preference. They earn their money here and spend it here buying homes, feeding their families and sending their children to school. The Orientals spend very little and send their money abroad" ("Would Solve Question"). Jones added a jab at local mill owners, claiming that he found it strange that they were incapable of operating without bringing in outside labor when the Canyon Lumber Company, one of the largest in the region, had been operating with all white crews during the claimed labor shortage.

In what may have been a response to claims of a lack of community investment, the day after the resolutions were published it was reported that a group of Asian Indian laborers were interested in investing in property. According to the article, the group was in negotiations with a local real estate dealer to purchase acreage outside of Everett city limits. "The Hindus realize the fact that their presence in Everett is not received altogether with acclaim, that their residence on Norton avenue, north, is objected to by white neighbors, and for this reason feel as though a removal to a point just beyond the city limits would have a tendency to relieve the situation somewhat" ("Hindus Wish to Purchase Land"). No sale resulted from these negotiations.

Mill Men Versus the Workers

Mill owners remained firm that they would not discharge their Asian Indian laborers unless white workers could be found who were willing to work for the same lower rates for unskilled labor, which included stacking lumber and raking refuse out of water troughs. As a response, labor leaders made a veiled threat, admonishing non-white laborers to leave the city unless they were looking for trouble. One unnamed labor leader was quoted: "this stand proves the contention of the unions, that Hindus were being employed for the sole purpose of reducing wages and lowering the standard of living of the American workingman. We tried every way possible to avoid trouble in Everett in dealing with this question. I always advocate peaceful methods, but there always comes a time when some of the workers most seriously affected are hard to keep down when the pressure gets hard. Judging from history, if the mill men will not dispose of the Hindus as the places can be filled, I would advise the Hindu to go away" ("Mill Men's Attitude ...").

At the same time, the Herald began to report on likely mill slowdowns and even shutdowns throughout the region, due to a diminishing demand for product back East. The paper predicted that by the end of the year, every mill in Everett would cease operations for a period of up to six months to avoid creating an overabundance of lumber and shingles that would drop prices further. A committee of mill owners from the North Puget Sound region, chaired by David M. Clough (1846-1924), then vice-president and general manager of the Clark-Nickerson Lumber Company, met in Seattle to agree on the terms of the agreed-upon shutdowns. The committee announced that beginning November 1, shingle mills would close for 120 days. In practice, the directives soon relaxed, and it became apparent that there would be a range of approaches from total shutdown to normal operations.

Increased Harassment

During the debate over dismissing Asian Indian workers and the looming threat of mill closures, harassment directed at the Asian Indian laborers began to rise. On October 18, the Everett Daily Herald ran a story about someone claiming to be an Asian Indian worker attempting to place an ad for a bride. Accurately, the article begins: "Either Mota Singh is hunting trouble or his enemies are hunting up trouble for him." While the Herald declined to place the ad without editorializing, it nevertheless did print the full copy, where the alleged Singh requested a white girl between the ages of 18 to 25 years, in good health and of excellent character. The advertisement was requested to be placed in a prominent part of the paper for a period of 30 days. When the ad was not immediately printed, the Herald received a call from someone it stated had the "voice of a foreigner," claiming he was calling from 2601 Norton Avenue to inquire about his advertisement ("Advertises for Wife").

Mill management at Weidauer-Lansdown Company, which the ad named as Singh's employer, came to the defense of its worker. They said that Singh had been on the clock at the time the Herald received the suspicious call, and that they were of the opinion "that some white man wrote the advertisement with the view of stirring up general wrath against the Hindu for his impudence in desiring to marry a white girl" ("Advertises for Wife ..."). Outrage on behalf of white women was also used to stir up resentments in the Bellingham riots, when it was claimed that Asian Indian workers failed to make room on a sidewalk for white women to pass by with their baby carriages, forcing them into the street. 

In a much less elaborate act of aggression, on October 21 the Everett Daily Herald reported on an assault that occurred outside of the Horseshoe Saloon at 1805 Hewitt Avenue: "A painful object lesson was received by a turbaned Hindu early Saturday night to prove why he should be shaved and shorn like a white man when living in a white man's country" ("Drunk Attacks Hindu ..."). The man was walking by the saloon by when an intoxicated patron, identified as William Garman, exited the bar and assaulted him, grabbing his beard and vigorously yanking. The victim was able to fight off his attacker, and Garman was arrested. He was released shortly after on $20 cash bail, and later fined $1 plus costs in court.

Violence Erupts

No further public mention was made of hostilities towards the Asian Indian residents of Everett in the coming days, but plans were secretly being made for a demonstration for their removal from the city. Earlier in the day on November 2, 1907, someone tipped off local law enforcement that there would be a gathering near the lodgings of the disputed workers. While the informant claimed that this was to be a peaceful demonstration, law enforcement had the foresight gained from the events from Bellingham to gather up all the threatened workers to place them into protective custody.

"A mob of several hundred white laboring men and boys gathered by pre-arrangement, demolished sheds occupied by the Asiatics and sought to lay hands on the Oirentals [sic] themselves, though this mob was frustrated as thirty-four Hindus had quietly been rounded up and placed in the city jail for protection ... The demonstration was arranged by the mill workers and their sympathizers for the purpose of striking terror to the Hindu heart, to force the aliens to flee the city" ("Mob Scares...").

The unrest began at the end of California Street, near the waterfront, just steps from the Norton home occupied by several of the workers. By all reports the gathering remained quiet for some time, and Chief Scott M. Marshall attempted to persuade the crowd to disperse. Demonstrators claimed that they did not intend any violence, merely to convince the Asian Indian workers they should leave. If they didn't comply, it was intimated that something more than a demonstration might occur. Chief Marshall reached out to the Mayor for assistance, and Jones sent a telegram to Governor Albert E. Mead (1861-1913) requesting permission to call out the militia in the event the mob activity intensified beyond the ability of local police to control. An armed guard was posted at Robinson Manufacturing. He informed the mob that he would shoot the first man attempting to enter. Armed men were also posted at the Clark-Nickerson and Weidauer-Lansdown mills.

The mob proceeded to the dwellings known to house Asian Indian laborers and began pelting the structures with rocks, smashing out windows. Chief Marshall attempted to swear in special deputies to be prepared for worsening violence and at least 20 refused, citing their objection to the presence of the Asian Indian laborers. Eventually the mob marched to city hall, and the jail where the workers were being protected, shouting "Down with the Hindus" ("Mob Scares ..."). Marshall once again unsuccessfully attempted to convince the mob to disperse. At midnight Mayor Jones emerged from city hall and addressed the crowd. He said that the mill owners were operating within their rights in employing the Asian Indian workers, and that the city would fulfill its duty in protecting them. He told the protesters that it was their duty as citizens to go home and not trouble city administrators further. Surprisingly, they complied.

After spending a tense Saturday night in jail, most of the Asian Indian workers quickly went to their homes and employers to settle their affairs. They returned to the jail Sunday night for one more evening of protection and arranged to leave town the next morning. Five of the workers returned to the jail under slightly different circumstances. According to claims made by the Herald, upon leaving the protection of the jail Sunday morning, five workers returned to their quarters where they finished demolishing the structure and got drunk. They were alleged to have insulted women living in the vicinity, and shortly thereafter about 200 men and boys showed up to pursue them. The mob chased the men down Hewitt Avenue and into local businesses, including the American National Bank (southeast corner of Hewitt and Colby avenues) and Hanson's Cigars and Confectionary (1608 Hewitt). Miraculously nobody was seriously injured, and the Asian Indian men were taken into custody. All five were freed the next morning with the understanding that all would leave Everett without delay.

Aftermath and Explanations

An editorial in the Everett Daily Herald expressed a combination of regret and resignation similar to what was shown in articles that immediately followed the Bellingham riot. It implied that the events were inevitable without assistance from the mill owners, and that it was a relief that things had not gone worse. The general tone was that violence leaves an ugly smear on a community, and that it could have been avoided if the mill men had not employed Asian labor in the first place:

"... the employer is the man who must solve the Hindu problem. He says that Hindus are good, faithful workmen, that day after day they will do work that he cannot get white men to do as faithfully and steady. The Hindu comes with a plea that he is also Aryan, although his skin is dark, that he wants an opportunity in a land whose name is said to be synonymous with that word. The white laborer says this is a white man's country and that white men should do the work. The merchant does not regard the Hindu as a promising citizen, and agrees with the white laborer […] But there is a broader issue involved, and that is the fear that the Hindus now upon the coast are but the forerunners of an alien horde […] Race prejudice is as old as the world, and were there no economic considerations, it would be a most potent argument against the coming Hindu; the two together make a strong case" (Untitled editorial).

An unsigned letter stated more simply: "While everyone who believes in fair play condemns Saturday night's anti-Hindu demonstration, there cannot but be a feeling of general satisfaction over the departure of the Hindus from this city as a result. One dislikes to see them driven out in that manner, but now that it has been done, perhaps we should be thankful nothing worse occurred" (Anonymous Letter).

Mayor Jones faced some criticism for his request to the governor for militia support; it was implied that his reelection could be in jeopardy due to his willingness to "shoot down unionists" ("Mayor's Message ..."). Jones was vindicated when the wording of his telegram was picked apart, demonstrating that he only asked for permission to call the militia should local authorities be unable to control the situation. It seemed clear to all concerned that he viewed such intervention as a very last resort. He was reelected later that November, becoming the first mayor to serve a two-year term under the city's new charter.

Mill closures and slowdowns continued through much of November, though a Everett Daily Herald article published on November 25 indicated that was about to change. Mayor Jones released a statement that while it was impossible for local mills to sell shingles to the East due to low demand, Seaside Shingle would resume operations as soon as possible to come to the aid of its large crew, which had never experienced layoffs since the mill's opening. The Mitchell Lumber Company was already working on an order for 500,000 feet of structural timbers for the Panama Canal, which would be added to shipments from other local mills to total 3 million feet of cargo promised for the steamer Sheila.

In what seemed like the final word on Asian Indian labor, the Everett Daily Herald printed two articles on the proposed construction of a large steel plant in India. American engineering concern Julian Kennedy, Sahlin and company, limited of London, was awarded a contract to construct a $10 million plant in India. Julian Kennedy (1852-1932), a Pittsburgh blast furnace expert, had originally been engaged in remodeling American lines at British steel plants when he enlisted Maryland-based steel expert Axel Sahlin (1850-1937) in the India venture on behalf of Tata Iron and Steel. The operation was expected to have an initial capacity of 120,000 tons with an estimated 18,000-ton additional growth. At the time, India was importing about 500,000 tons of steel annually from American and British sources. One unnamed writer for the Herald saw this announcement as symbolic, writing:

"The Hindu question is shortly to be presented in a new light. On the Pacific coast we have seen one phase of it; shortly the world is to be shown another. We have refused to allow the Hindus to come and compete with us; we shall soon be given opportunity to see what they are like as competitors when working among their own people.

Americans have been awarded the contract for erecting a huge ten million dollar steel plant in British India, a plant that will manufacture steel rails and structural steel at a cost of production estimated to be one-half that of the best American prices. In other words our great steel export trade, much of which is with India and other portions of Asia, is to be brought into competition with the cheaper product of Hindu labor. This latest form of competition promises to give much more trouble than that variety we have experienced on the Pacific coast at the hands of the Hindu" ("The Hindu at Home").

Tata Iron and Steel grew to become the largest privately owned steelmaker in India, the flagship business of a corporation that maintained a large and varied manufacturing portfolio. The Tata family helped found the Indian Institute of Science, and privately funded technical research throughout India. The company went on to aggressively acquire a variety of international brands, including Tetley Tea, Corus Group steel production, and the British car brands Jaguar and Land Rover. As of 2021, Tata Steel had manufacturing operations in 26 countries, and a commercial presence in over 50, employing staff on five continents.

As for the workers who were driven out of Everett, we have no information about where those specific displaced individuals landed. Most of the Asian Indians who were driven out of the Pacific Northwest went to California, though some found homes in Astoria, Oregon. Many of the laborers who remained in the United States collaborated politically with a separate wave of wealthier Indian students who immigrated to attend American universities. This coalition of expats, mostly Sikhs, become instrumental in the fight for Indian independence from British rule as part of the Gadar party.  

In 2007, the Bellingham Herald published an apology for the paper's biased coverage of riots on the 100th anniversary of the violence. To date no such statement has been issued by the Everett Daily Herald, now known as the Everett Herald, though in 2019 the paper published an article describing the events of 1907. Additionally, in 2007 the City of Bellingham issued a proclamation that acknowledged the 1907 race riots and called for healing and reconciliation. In 2018 the City of Vancouver, B. C., officially apologized for its historic discrimination against Chinese Canadians. In April of the same year, the City of Bellingham unveiled the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation as a reminder of the city's historic exclusionary actions aimed at peoples of Asian origin and descent.


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