Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

A Thousand Cuts: Or, How Soo Hoo Doo Got Run out of Town

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

A Thousand Cuts: Or, How Soo Hoo Doo Got Run out of Town

Article excerpt

Police whistles broke the peace of a quiet Sunday morning in the summer of 1887. Customers collecting their finished bundles from the Chinese laundries along Philadelphia's Race Street jumped aside as police rushed from door to door. In rapid-fire order the police charged Yee Hop, John Lee, Hop Lee, and Kim Wah with Sunday closing violations and slapped each with a $4 fine. When the laundrymen refused to pay, the police marched them to Magistrate Eisenbrown who threatened them with jail if they did not comply by the end of the week.

Word spread quickly. The next evening over sixty men--nearly every Chinese laundryman in downtown Philadelphia--met to plan a course of action. For more than two hours, one after another shared stories of police harassment. In the end, they retained a lawyer to petition Judge Bregy for an appeal. Bregy granted the appeal but postponed arguments until the fall.

The next Sunday the men opened their laundries as usual. Soon afterward a customer entered the shop of Sam Chung, begging Chung to finish a shirt so he could take his best girl to the park. Chung didn't work Sundays but eventually he yielded to the man's persistent pleas. The moment Chung picked up his iron the police came and arrested him.

Chung's Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Downing, was visiting and witnessed the entire episode. Short, stout, blackhaired, and determined, she erupted in fury at the policemen and accompanied Chung, only sixteen, and the arresting officer to Magistrate Eisenbrown's office. When Eisenbrown imposed a fine, Downing exploded. "That's right! That's right! Persecute the poor Chinamen. You can only see on one side of the street. You can see the poor Chinese with their laundries open, but you can't see the white groceries and grog shops and cigar stores and candy stores!" Eisenbrown tried to calm her but she would not calm. She denounced the magistrate, the lieutenant, and the entire police force. When Eisenbrown insisted he would fine Chung $4 and costs, Downing cried, "Don't pay them a cent. It's downright robbery." "I won't pay no fine," replied a resolute Chung. (1) Chung was determined to stay and fight but Soo Hoo Doo (aka Mon Yuen Soo, 1865-1914), another Philadelphia laundryman and manager of a prosperous bazaar, decided it was time to move on. This is his story.

Doo moved to the rapidly-growing community of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania where he founded a laundry and import store. In the early 1890s he brought his wife from China as one of the first Chinese women to live in the state. (2) The couple soon had four children, all born in the United States. They established close ties with prominent members of the Scranton community and prospered. Then, in the violence surrounding the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, Doo became the target of incessant police harassment. To safeguard his family, he removed them to China and returned alone to manage his business interests. The harassment intensified. He moved to nearby Wilkes-Barre, but after a few peaceful years, police harassment commenced there as well. Doo hired lawyers, assembled witnesses, and fought extortion efforts by the Black Hand, the police, and plain crooks. His exertions proved futile. He was tried three times and thrown in jail before charges against him were finally dropped. In despair he returned to Philadelphia and died at the young age of forty-nine.

I tell Doo's story--parts of it at least--in Doo's own voice. Since few Chinese Americans of the era left personal records, this fact alone makes Doo's story a valuable addition to nineteenth-century American history. Most Chinese were illiterate immigrants without the time or resources for journal-keeping or extensive letter-writing. They were men whose families were largely forbidden from joining them, so few had American-born children to tell their tales. (3) As targets of harsh laws limiting their entry and conduct, many understandably avoided the spotlight. …

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