DENVER (KDVR) – The country is just over one year removed from the first time a sitting United States president visited the Oklahoma town where mobs of white people attacked, terrorized and in some cases, killed, their Black neighbors, back in 1921.
The Tulsa race massacre will likely forever remain a blemish on this country’s past, but something that has seemed to wain slightly when it comes to societal recall is the massacre that unfolded just over 40 years before then, in the area known to Denverites as LoDo.
If you’re walking through LoDo, you may come across a memorial plaque that outlines the full story of how roughly 500 Chinese residents landed in Denver following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Back on April 19, Mayor Michael Hancock delivered a heavily-overdue apology at the University of Colorado Denver for the anti-Chinese riot that occurred in Lower Downtown back on Halloween night in 1880. At the time, the neighborhood located along Wazee Street was nicknamed “Hop Alley,” which was a reference to the 17 known opium dens in the area.
“The racial hostility and institutional inequities began with the arrival of the first Chinese immigrant workers in 1869 when they were forced to live and work in the segregated area of Chinatown, founded on Wazee Street between 15th and 17th Streets,” Hancock said in the written apology.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, several white men got into a skirmish with two Chinese men at the John Asmussen’s Saloon that night, which was located at along the 1600 block of Wazee Street, according to the Historical Marker Database. The fight was allegedly booze-fueled and it eventually moved out into the street outside of the bar.
Shortly thereafter, an estimated 3,000 white residents went into the neighborhood and proceeded to destroy storefronts and property owned by Chinese citizens.
Those rioters would go on to lynch and kill Look Young, a Chinese man living in Hop Alley. Those responsible for his murder were never punished.
“Irresponsible government reports regularly condemned it as a den of inequity and its inhabitants as conveyors of social diseases,” Hancock continued in his letter to the Chinese community. “Tragically, the anti-Chinese riot of October 31, 1880, nearly destroyed Chinatown, killed Look Young, a young laundryman, and wounded hundreds of others.”
During the presentation, the mayor estimated that damages ranging up to $53,000 were accrued during the riot. He also apologized for the years that followed due to their ability to be described as exclusionary for Chinese residents.
Today, in the same neighborhood where the saloon fight occurred, a bar named Hop Alley now sits. The reclaimed name serves as a thumbing of the nose toward the people who used to use the name with malice.