1914-1916 Part 5
Minorities and Racism
by Mark McIntire
from Free Venice Beachhead #126 June 1980
It is impossible to fully appreciate the status and condition
of racial minorities by leafing through the pages of an Anglo, community
paper like the Venice Vanguard. Brown, black, and yellow people
are infrequently mentioned because they were despised and therefore unworthy.
This is called racism. They are invisible because they are petty bourgeois,
working class, or poor. This myopic vision of reality is called class
consciousness. The editors and reporters of the local newspaper were not
members of any ruling class but they unconsciously promoted that view.
In such a world minorities appear only infrequently, and then for the
most part as criminals, anti-socials, or curiosities. Nevertheless, when
studying local Venice history between 1914-1916 through the pages of the
newspaper one catches rare, fleeting glimpses of these people and the
lives which they lived.
Predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Venice of
1914-1916 had a variegated ethnic population and was no different form
other small cities of the area during this period in its attitude towards
minorities. The Venice Evening Vanguard reflected the attitude
of its readers; it was racist. A persons race or ethnic origin was
used to trigger a stereotypical image in the readers mind. No attempts
were made to disguise the bigotry; no apologies were made. The newspaper
was naively ignorant of its prejudice against other races even when this
prejudice was quite obvious. The three minority groups given the most
attention were Orientals, Mexicans, and Blacks - the three most prominent
minorities from Europe. All were stereotyped, some more viciously than
One of the main causes of bigotry among Venetians was
their extreme ethnocentrism. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant American culture
was seen as the greatest form of culture to which a society could attain.
A 1915 society page article described a James Chapin, explorer, along
with the Pygmy he found in Africa. He had just returned to tell about
his strange discoveries. Referring to a photograph published
in the paper Chapin is quoted: This little fellow is a polygamist
as are all the members of his tribe. Some of the chiefs had as many as
200 wives. It was noted that the explorer did not see any
evidence of cannibalism for himself.
A rather large population of Orientals lived in or near
Venice. A Japanese fishing village was located near the Long Wharf north
of Santa Monica while small numbers of Chinese lived or worked in both
Santa Monica and Venice. These two ethnic minorities were often viewed
differently by Venetians who were often well disposed towards the Japanese
but condescending towards the Chinese.
The inhabitants of the Japanese village were fishermen
and an integral economic part of the Santa Monica Bay community. Economic
competition led to animosity which was exacerbated by racial differences.
When a sudden increase in the schools of fish in the Santa Barbara Channel
occurred, the Vanguard reported that the abundance would cause
a decrease in the price of fish. But white fishermen out of San Pedro
decided to restrict fishing in order to keep prices up. The members of
the Japanese village refused to comply with the voluntary fishing restraints
proposed by the San Pedro group, which then threatened to sail a flotilla
up the coast and force them to comply. Violence was only narrowly averted
by local authorities who stepped in and fined four Japanese fishermen
$50 each for illegally fishing with seine nets within the three mile limit.
Crime also cast a shadow over the relationship between
Venetians and the Japanese. For example R. E. Denning and M. Oura were
arrested at the village on charges of white slavery. There was a search
for the women involved but they were not found due to
passages connecting one Japs home with another
not known to
any white man. It was suggested that county officers make a thorough
cleaning up of the village. It was reported that the
police arrested a Japanese with an unpronounceable name on charges
of annoying residents near Thornton Ave. and Ocean Front Walk by looking
though their windows.
There was also a widespread fear of the yellow
peril. A Venice city trustee commented on the 100,000 Japanese living
on the Hawaiian islands: the presence of so many Japs on the islands
is going to become a most interesting problem for Uncle Sam to handle
now the country is virtually at the mercy of the little brown men
is no telling what may happen
This issue was further expounded
on by City Attorney Hanna who said: A number of these study little
yellow fellows were on the beach doing Jiu Jitsu and they were models
of perfect development. It is possible that some day we will have to send
some of our people against these fellows in battle.
Japanese considered themselves Americans as evidence
by their celebration of the Fourth of July. Through the organization of
the Japanese Association of Southern California, a 4th of July picnic
was held at the Japanese village. What was referred to as Nipponese
pastimes and games were played on the beach. As was customary for any
picnic, speeches were addressed to the crowd by important Japanese of
the Southland. Because they were oriental the entire affair was termed
an Oriental Activity not an American one.
Another article reported that a fire in the village had
caused over $40,000 worth of damage to 25 buildings. The Pacific Electric
Co, whose tracks ran through the village, pledged to help repair the damage.
But the Vanguard could not resist a racist innuendo. It reported
that the fire made the Japanese realize that in order to protect their
homes they would have to install a fire bell. The bell was located on
top of a high pole and the only way to ring it was for someone to climb
the pole, according to the paper. The suggestion of monkeys was obviously
Japanese art and ambition were however admired. The Strand
Café was redecorated with a Japanese theme and the whole
interior is said to be the most beautiful creation yet attempted on the
beach. A news item described a Japanese businessman who donated
to the Christmas charity drive as a noble hearted son of the Cherry
he has a generous heart even if his tongue is foreign.
It was reported without comment that Tom Yamaraka and Ike Irakazawa had
graduated from the Venice School of Aviation. The Christian Womans
Board of Missions welcomed kindergarten age Japanese children to their
institutional programs. A movie about Japan played at a local theater.
An ad for The Courtship of O San stated that the movie portrayed
the beauty, poetry, and whimsical daintiness of the Japanese people.
The Chinese were also the victims of prejudice. Len Sans
application to establish a Chinese laundry was denied by the Board of
Trustees because of the objections of Westminster Ave. property owners.
The specific objections were not given, but the need for a Chinese laundry
hardly held as much sway as any objections local property owners might
have raised. Another article entitled, Now, what do you know about
this, Chinaman beats Irishman discussed the victory of Leo Lee,
the pride of Chinatown over his Caucasian opponent. The tenor of the article
shows the preconceived racial beliefs white-skinned superiority
that existed among many Venetians. Another reference to Chinese involved
the seizure of vast amounts of opium and morphine by Los Angeles
police at the home of Toy On and Wong Sing.
Chinese were described as gamblers and dope smugglers
in some articles, but in others they were ordinary citizens who forecasted
the weather, and played baseball. Jack Woo, Hom Chung, and Quing Pin were
arrested in Santa Monica on charges of maintaining a place where lottery
drawings were held. There was mention in the paper of connections
with L.A. and San Francisco. The area near Playa Del Rey was being
watched by police and concerned citizens because of unusual activities
observed by a chemist names March. He reported that he had seen men in
parked cars on the bluffs shoot rockets off toward the ocean. Shortly
afterward Chinamen landed on the beach, got into the cars
and drove off toward Los Angeles. They may have been Chinese smugglers,
opium smugglers, or in communication with some of the foreign men-of-war
ships known to be in southern waters. Ray Jones of the State Board
of Pharmacy and four deputies visited Chinatown (5th and Pennsylvania
Ave.) in Santa Monica. They were on the lookout for dope,
but didnt find any. Santa Monicas Chinatown was also warned
that unless the occupants cleaned up their district it might be wiped
out. The Chinese got busy painting and cleaning and no action was taken.
A few semi-positive articles concerning Chinese did appear.
Young Sing described as a wealthy Chinese, was attacked one night while
walking home. He shot his assailant but not before being hurt himself.
The Vanguard expressed its sympathy for Sing and hoped he would
not be in the hospital too long.
Lon Wa of Venice was described as a Chinese gardener
and weather prognosticator extraordinary. Mention was also made
of Lai Tin, a Chinese baseball player from Honolulu who was signed by
the White Sox as the first Chinese player in major league history. Fook
Wo Lung was the only Oriental mentioned by name in the newspapers during
May-June 1915. He engineered a deal by which the Chinese Chamber of Commerce
contributed to the La Fiesta de las Flores parade. But the Vanguard
could not resist belittling the man. The Bay area had been experiencing
a great deal of rainfall around this time and Fook Wo Lung was reported
as saying that a great Chinese dragon had caused it.
Whatever Venetians felt about the Orientals in their
own community there is evidence that they were fascinated by oriental
culture. For example, the Breakers Club put on an Oriental Ball that was
elaborate and popular. China, Japan, Persia, Egypt, and all the
countries of the Far and Middle East were represented in the costumes
worn by Venetians. Similarly, some of the womens clubs held Japanese
tea and chop suey parties. They discussed topics such as Oriental fashions,
make up, and bound feet. Japanese prints were displayed and discussed
at one such meeting.
Another minority, blacks, were generally treated with
disdain. Segregation was the goal in Venice. Two separate articles in
the Vanguard addressed this issue. The first dealt with a national
issue, a legal challenge to anti-black occupancy laws before the U. S.
Supreme Court. The particular laws in question were from St. Louis and
Louisville, which prohibited blacks from occupying property in predominantly
white neighborhoods. Commented the Vanguard: The mixing of
of decidedly opposite colors is not at any time desirable.
Segregation should not be legislated but achieved by other means.
In another article it was reported that Los Angeles property
owners had organized to raise money to fight a law allowing the sale of
property to Negroes.
Blacks were meant to be isolated, presumable like the
Japanese in their village and the Chinese in Chinatown. For blacks this
isolation manifested itself in a segregated colored church.
Phillips Chapel M. E. of Venice. Clearly identified as a colored
church it was nevertheless mentioned that everyone was welcome.
A classified ad announced that a colored woman was offering
her services as a cleaning lady.
Blacks were never mentioned on the society page. An exception
occurred when one of the local Venice delegates to the convention of the
United Daughters of the Confederacy in San Diego, Mrs. A. B. Davis, read
a charming little Negro dialect poem of her own composition
to her club.
Crimes committed by blacks were often sensationalized.
Race was considered an important piece of information about a person whose
name was entered on the police department dockets. One story of crime
did not even have the names or descriptions of the suspects but their
color was known. The headlines read: Five Negroes in a Ford car
up three moving picture actors. Guns were used, the actors were
robbed, and Chief of Police Watson and his men started after the
Negroes toward Playa Del Rey.
Criminal tendencies were pointed out when a colored
man reportedly cashed bogus checks in the city. When three colored
crap shooters were taken into custody from the grounds of the Al
G. Barnes Circus it was so reported. In Camden New Jersey, Mrs. E. T.
Sherman, formerly of Ocean Park, was assaulted and robbed. She was unconscious
for an hour, dragged herself to a farm house a mile away, and told her
story relating that it had been done by two Negroes. The next day, a single
Negro was spotted with blood on his clothing, and with no straightforward
story of his whereabouts the evening before. He was hung on a telephone
pole and shot full of holes. So reported the Vanguard.
A black janitor, the newspaper referred to as a trusted
colored man, was in the bank when the alarm went off after closing
time. People began peering through the windows at him and he became uneasy,
because he was certain someone would soon assume him to be a bandit
and take a shot at him. Calling him a trusted black man leads one to assume
that most black men cant be trusted.
It was the idea of J. Goodman Braye to establish a Negro
industrial school in Southern California. Mr. Braye was black, but because
of the light color of his skin it was sometimes difficult for whites to
recognize that fact. The school Braye proposed was to be structured along
the lines of Tuskegee Institute. He came to the Bay district in July of
1916 hoping to obtain subscriptions to a $100,000 building fund. This
school idea was endorsed by some of the leading citizens of Venice, including
Mayor Gerety, W. A. Rennie of the Vanguard, R. A. Phillips and
Douglas Wilson. No location for the school as yet had been selected. The
school would train blacks in agriculture, domestic science, mechanics
and vocational skills.
Blacks were often made fun of and described as abnormal.
For instance a first page story told of a colored gentleman, after
imbibing too freely, tells the police of fantastic experiences.
Andrew Carson, colored, much the worse off for the potions
he had imbibed, was arrested apparently for being drunk. He was quoted
as having told police captain Lingo, I had been fishin capn
and my pole broke. Jest when I started for home the tide rose up and the
bridge was done gone down the stream. Capn Ise not a bad man
at all I jest was naturally over come by the high water and could not
navigate home. Captain Lingo replied: Not just water, I guess, Carson,
unless you drank a great many chasers. You are simply drunk and the best
place for you is in the can.
Blacks, referred to as colored, were treated as subservient
to white people. A cartoon printed by the paper showed the stereotyped
black housekeeper as a clumsy imbecile. In two successive cartoons she
drops a vase and an egg.
A black porter named Henry was mentioned in an article
about the Venice Bowling alley. The article implied that everyone acquainted
with bowling knew Henry.
The paper reported that Jefferson L. Edwards, editor
of the Liberator (a black publication) had died. He had been a
teacher, Justice of the Peace in Mississippi, a delegate to the National
Silver Convention, and was self-educated. The article ended with an editorial
aside: he was a colored man far above the average intelligence of
Black culture was a novelty to Venetians. When manager
Middleton of the Ocean Park Dance Pavilion booked the Sierra Colored Troupe,
it was expected to draw the biggest crowd to the Ocean Park Pier since
the fire. Similarly old-fashioned colored cake walks (strutting
dance performed by southern blacks) attracted many to the amusement district.
The economic standing of Negroes was exemplified in an
article that described a fire in Santa Monica at the home of L. Burke,
a colored man. His gas stove exploded causing a fire. While
there was no loss to the building perhaps $10 would meet expenses
of replacing carpet and bedding.
In regard to the entertaining qualities of Negroes an
advertisement for the Strand Café read: The Big 4 Colored
Entertainers from Mobile Ala. Plantation Melodies and All Popular Music.
An article with this same theme described a black man named Nat Love of
Santa Monica. He had been famous in wild west days as Deadwood Dick,
and had recently published a book about his life as a champion rope thrower
and revolver shooter. He had also worked as a porter before moving to
Santa Monica and, at that time, was a faithful worker, a checker
at the city yards.
Negro eating habits were ridiculed when prizefighter
Sam Langford rewarded his black trainers with a chicken dinner at the
end of a training session. He remarked that after them coons got
through with them barnyard fowls, there was nothing but a pile of bones
as big as the skeleton of a mule.
One well known black in Venice was Sam Green who shined
shoes on Pier Ave. He was praised for recruiting between 50 and 75 black
men to serve in the army during the border fighting with Mexico. But the
newspaper couldnt resist a racist editorial comment, quoting Green
as having said that he was having trouble getting blacks to serve as privates
because they all wanted to be officers.
Blacks appear to have had their own club in Venice, called
the Colored Society, where they held dances, vocal and instrumental concerts.
Another ethnic group which experienced prejudice were
the Mexicans. Approximately 500 Mexicans lived in Venice, mostly in a
barrio near the old Motordome (around Jefferson and Lincoln.) These people
were also hated and feared more than the other minorities. During the
Mexican civil war Pancho Villa had raided many parts of the American southwest
and Anglos believed that the Mexicans were intent on recovering California.
These concerns were expressed almost daily in the pages
of the Vanguard where Mexicans were pictured in a stereotypical
and derogatory way. When Mexican-U.S. relations deteriorated in April
1914, the racist attitude of Venetians towards Mexicans became more virulent.
The newspaper said that Ocean Parkers were casting suspicious eyes
upon the Mexicans.
Independent municipalities began to pass laws to restrict
Mexican residents. It was warned that no Mexicans would be allowed to
congregate on street corners. And no more liquor was to be
sold to Mexicans while the war was in progress. Said Santa Monica Police
Chief Randell, Theres no telling what kind of trouble might
start if Mexicans are not allowed to fill up with cheap wine.
Not long after this two Mexicans were placed under arrest for being boisterous.
And chief Randell eventually issued a directive that anybody looking
suspicious would be arrested. The law should have read: Anyone
looking Mexican will be arrested.
Two Mexicans were arrested for disturbing the peace and
three Mexicans were arrested for begging and acting in a threatening
manner along Strand St. An individual, looking as if he were
dead, and passed out in the street, was not identified other than
as a Mexican. When on patrol one day, officer Stukey ran into an aggressive
Mexican. He (the Mexican) coolly informed the officer that he would
cut him to pieces
Stukey shoved his revolver against the Mexicans
stomach.: The Mexican was arrested and the newspapers headline to
this story was
Officer Stukey whipped Mexico yesterday without
firing a single shot. At the police station, it seems that the mans
name was unpronounceable so he was booked with the prestigious
name of John Doe Mex.
The escalating conflict in Texas over the search for
Pancho Villa added to the suspicions and hostility many Venetians felt
towards Mexicans. While the newspaper kept them well informed about developments
there, Venetians were told of the danger that existed closer to home.
In early May the Vanguard reported the U. S. government was conducting
a search for spies and Mexican revolutionary plotters in San Diego and
other areas of the Southwest as far east as New Orleans. Meanwhile Antonio
Morales was arrested for suspicion of having participated in a riot
in Montebello, three Mexican riots occurred in separate sections
of Los Angeles on one day, and Ricardo Flores Magon and his brother Enrique,
two alleged Mexican revolutionaries, went on trial in Los Angeles, charged
with illegal use of the mails to incite riot. The Magon brothers were
indeed revolutionaries. They published a revolutionary newspaper for Chicanos
out of Los Angeles called Regeneration. It called for armed insurrection
against U. S. capitalism and imperialism and the creation of an anarcho-communist
Mexican Republic in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
A cartoon entitled "Volunteering in Mexico"
portrayed Mexican peasants as lazy. The Mexican army was getting volunteers
by lassoing, drugging, and knocking out their volunteers.
This cartoon stigmatizes the Mexicans as lazy and unpatriotic, just the
opposite of the good American, hard working, competent, and undyingly
By late June tensions between Mexico and the United States
began to peak. A virtual state of war existed between the two countries
(the semi-independent state of Yucatan actually declared war) and the
United States withdrew all its consuls from Mexico. The Mexican government
threatened to arrest any American found in that country. Sentiment in
favor of war was high, as a visiting Texas rancher commented to the Vanguard.
Weve simply got to teach those fellows a lesson
needs a good housecleaning and shes going to get it
The California National Guard was mobilized, including the local Company
E. Mexicans living in Southern California were now treated as a potential
5th column. Both Venice and Santa Monica pasted restrictive urgency ordinances
against the Mexicans.
Venice and Santa Monica police departments
will keep a strict watch over the large bay Mexican population. When Mexicans
in their own country are reported to be torturing Americans, at least
police in our own cities can take steps to prevent intoxicated Mexicans
form buying arms and ammunition and from going out on a little bandit
mission of their own. No liquor should be sold Mexicans, and Chief Watson
of Venice and Chief Watson of Venice and Chief Ferguson of Santa Monica
will see that the order is strictly enforced. With perhaps 75,000 Mexicans
in Los Angeles county, a riot would result in the loss of many lives and
the destruction of much property. Withholding liquor and firearms from
the Mexicans will be the best preventative of crime.
Not all Mexicans in Venice or Santa Monica were treated
in a stereotypical way. Jose Lopez was one such individual who realized
what many white-skinned Americans have failed to, that his first duty
is to his country
Lopez ignored the idea prevalent among
those of foreign blood, that the boys of Company E do not desire them
. and became a recruit in the California National Guard.
The Vanguard concluded: It has been assured that all American
citizens of any birth whatever
with clean habits are welcomed at
all times by every member of the company. Implied in this statement
was that the typical Mexican failed in the opinion of many Venetians to
meet the criteria of clean habits.
Another exception to the Venetian stereotype was J. Gonzales.
This visitor from Juarez planned to spend the summer with his family at
the beaches until the unpleasantness existing in his section of
the country has blown over
This apparently wealthy individual with assumedly clean
habits, also stood above the typical drunken Mexican. The Vanguard
treated him in a manner of relative equality, using none of its typical
inflammatory words to describe the unpleasantness which Mr.
Gonzales was avoiding. All this suggests that the economically successful
individual was not meant to be included in the stereotype of the typical
But in general the Vanguard projects the impression
that Mexicans were undesirable elements, frequently arrested, and forced
to leave town. There is no indication given that Mexicans living in the
American southwest were the victims of racial prejudice and economic exploitation,
and no recognition or appreciation of the growing spirit of national pride
among them is apparent.
Eduardo Ramos was arrested (called Ed) on a charge of
drunkenness. According to the paper he was found at 3 a.m. entertaining
a group of his countrymen with a speech. Fined ten dollars
and ten days in jail, he was quoted as saying, Ill kill every
American that I can find in Mexico when I get back there. It is
not known whether Ramos was connected with the Magon brothers. The only
glimmer of recognition in the Vanguard that the revolution going
on in Mexico was justified came when it reported the comments of a visitor
to Venice just returned from Mexico. As soon as the middle and peon
classes can be assured of their rights, warfare now in progress will die
Some native Americans lived in and around the Venice
area. A group of Ojibaway Indians had been brought in as actors in the
locally produced Longfellow play Hiawatha. This was a revolving
group of Sioux Indians from the Dakotas at Inceville in the Santa Monica
Mountains. Inceville was a small town, part of a ranch owned by the Ince
Movie Co. and it was there that many early westerns were made. The Indians
lived in the town there and were generally well received by the population
of the Santa Monica Bay. When the first Sioux Indian child was born on
the ranch to Chief Thunder Bull a huge blaze could be seen in the
mountains announcing the event. Indians also participated in such
local events as the Los Angeles preparedness parade designed
to show popular support for the government against Germany and Mexico.
That political consciousness among native Americans was still alive was
demonstrated when they carried a banner in the parade which read: You
people wouldnt be here now if we had been prepared.
But native Americans were also stereotyped. For instance
they were typically credited with drunkenness. Ernest Swallow of the 101
movie ranch was taken into custody in Santa Monica after imbibing
too much firewater. This was also the reason that V. A. Brooks this
morning shipped back to the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota a part
of 22 Indians who had been used in the moving picture camp in the Santa
Ynez Canyon. Mr. Brooks intends to bring in a bunch of new Sioux and Pawnee
Indians who are not so well acquainted with white men and their ways.
The newspaper reported without comment that One of the sights of
the street was a quartet of gaily bedecked Indian squaws riding about
the city in a big seven-seater car with a paleface driver behind the wheel.
A white person chauffeuring Indian women around, and Indian women riding
in a car worth considerably more than most people in Venice could afford?
Doc Sam was an Eskimo who lived in Santa Monica. He was
the last remaining member of a group that had come to visit Venice, perhaps
as part of a side show, in 1915. Arrested for vagrancy and drunkenness
in Santa Monica, he became the handyman of the local jail. Generally a
peaceful and harmless individual, he had a highly cultivated
taste for liquor and while under the influence of alcohol, he was
suspected of molesting children and frightening women by his queer
actions and gestures.
There were Jews living in Venice but they were not often
mentioned, and it is difficult to judge if anti-Semitism existed. But
the existence of anti-Semitism throughout the world was brought home to
a particular Jewish family when part of it was destroyed in a Russian
pogram. Mr. H. Fisher of Venice was located by the Jewish Relief Society
of New York which informed him that his mother, brother, and sister in
law had been beaten to death while out walking. Five children survived
who Mr. Fisher agreed to sponsor into the United States. The children
were scheduled to arrive in Venice in 15 months.
Racial stereotyping went beyond nationalities to include
racial groups. In general British, Canadians, Irish and Germans were well
liked and appreciated. Latins were often stereotyped as hot-blooded and
hot-headed. For example in the reporting of crimes, the crimes themselves
were not as significant as the fact that they were committed by persons
who were not white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant. This kind of reporting made
the stories more attractive reading, because the average reader did not
associate the criminals with his culture or society. For example when
Greeks got into minor trouble with the law their names were often not
mentioned, only the problem. A Greek restaurant proprietor,
a Greek janitor, a Greek laborer.
Racial prejudice was promoted by the Vanguard.
Terms such as coons, Greaser and Chink often appeared. Venice was predominantly
a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant community. California was known as a
melting pot, a place where a new start could be made. Population was increasing,
and many colored and ethnic groups were mentioned in Venice. As long as
they were clean, thrifty, and light skinned, as long as they stayed out
of sight, they were desirable. Dark skins, low-economic status, and any
suspicion of crime no matter how minor caused this WASP community to become
The general sentiment of Venetians with regard to minorities
was probably best echoed by City Attorney Byron Hanna. When asked why
he thought Venice needed a charter, he talked about the growth of the
city, new problems, and that he hoped Venice and her people would
look towards the future in that respect: that the right of local self-government
was as dear to the Anglo-Saxon people as liberty itself, and that when
we are ready for a charter we will lay aside all factional feeling and
approach it in the right spirit. Obviously laying aside all
factional feeling in the pursuit of democracy did not include eliminating
racial prejudice and the hatred and injustice which it bred, not just
in Venice, but throughout the country.