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Human Relations Commission to Consider Revised Language for Mills Place Plaques

Published on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 | 6:21 am
One of the current plaques. [Credit: Denise Boose]

The Human Relations Commission will consider revised language for plaques at Mills Alley in Old Pasadena where Chinese businesses were burned down in racist attacks .

The existing plaques makes no mention of the violent incident which happened 135 years ago.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m on Tuesday.

Currently a memorial at the site at Mills Place and Greet Street in Old Pasadena reads: “Named for Alexander Fraser Mills, a nursery man who planted a citrus grove on 7 ½ acres at the Northwest corner of Colorado Boulevard and Fair Oaks Avenue in 1878. Mills Place was originally named Ward Alley in 1885. A fire at this site destroyed a laundry owned by Chinese settlers.”

According to the city’s website, some of Old Pasadena’s alleys have more than one of the 9 x 12-inch markers.

The following information contained in Tuesday’s agenda is scheduled to be reviewed by the Commission:

“This plaque is dedicated to the resilience and perseverance of Chinese settlers who, like so many before them, bestowed dignity and grace upon American soil. In the mid-19th century.

“Asian Americans performed grueling labor to construct one of the nation’s greatest transportation and engineering accomplishments—the Overland Railroad. After its completion, these settlers journeyed throughout California, giving way to generations of Chinese Americans who worked as business owners, ranch hands, cooks, fruit pickers, and more. It was through this voyage of profoundly admirable work that several Chinese-owned businesses were established in Pasadena. However, as a result of xenophobia and prejudice, this small working-class community of businesses would thereafter be set ablaze.”

“On November 6, 1885, a Chinese wash house at this site was burned by a violent mob. History has documented that the mob forced roughly 60-100 Chinese Americans to decide between fleeing Pasadena, or being lynched. Not long thereafter, a resolution was passed by white Pasadenans barring those of Chinese descent from living in the predominant parts of Pasadena, therefore forcing these settlers into segregated enclaves. For decades to come, this event would serve as an enkindling of systemic discrimination, labor inequity, and redlining, therefore forcing these settlers, through unparalleled endurance, to rebuild on the fringes of society. This plaque acknowledges the solemn denial of freedom and equity these settlers faced, and recognizes their sacrifice in making Pasadena the thriving multicultural and multiracial, city it now is. From the ashes of intolerance, this tribute honors their fortitude, accomplishments, entrepreneurship, and contributions to innovation in the city of Pasadena.”

The review of the information on the plaques was made after two Pasadena residents earlier this year notified Councilmember Felicia Williams that what was written on the plaques does not accurately capture the gravity of the events connected to the fire which occurred in 1885.

According to a 2015 article by Matt Hormann, the fire was caused by a white mob “that turned Pasadena’s Chinatown into an inferno, obliterating it from the landscape, and, for many years, from the history books as well.”

According to the article, roughly 100 men participated in the riot, yet no one was ever arrested or charged.

The incident led to the formation of the city’s fire department and decades of racial separation, according to the article.

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