Supporters of Chinese expulsion murdered and injured hundreds of Chinese in many parts of the West throughout the 1870s and 1880s. What those incidences have in common is they were mostly spontaneous acts of violence by citizens running in gangs. The Tacoma expulsion of 600 Chinese in November 1885 is unique in that it was not spontaneous, but planned and organized. It later became known as the "Tacoma Method."1

The incident was organized from the very beginning. As early as September, posters saying, "The Chinese Must Go!," or "Chinese? No! No! No!" invited townsfolk to meetings to "consider the Chinese question."2 The leaders were not miners liquored up ready to fight, but city officials -- the mayor, sheriff and members of the town council -- along with Knights of Labor union members intent on ridding their town of Chinese.

On the night of the expulsion, a prearranged whistle signaled small groups to move in mass. These weren’t drunken mobs. They were pre-selected "committees" roaming through town, forcing Chinese residents out of their homes and businesses and into the streets. More than 600 Chinese were rounded up at gunpoint and herded to the rail depot at Seventh and Pacific avenues in Tacoma. Two Chinese victims died that night of exposure. By 3 a.m. most had been put on a train headed to Portland or San Francisco. Some eventually returned to China.

It’s worth noting that not everyone in Tacoma favored the expulsion. Young Ruby Chapin recalled a minister whose congregation threatened to leave his church if he supported Chinese residents. But the minister was not intimidated. He said he would "preach until all the benches are empty" rather than participate in anti-Chinese activity.3 Another resident wrote there was "a majority of decent, kindly people in our town but they were helpless against the mob minority."5 In spite of the dissent, all but a small group of Chinese community members were expelled from the city or left voluntarily either prior to or after November 2. Those who stayed were mostly house servants protected by their employers. Other cities, including Seattle, employed aspects of the Tacoma Method over the next few years. But Tacoma’s methodical approach to expelling Chinese remains a notorious standard for this nineteenth century version of ethnic cleansing. The Chinese presence was effectively wiped out in Tacoma in a span of two months. They did not begin returning to the Tacoma until after World War II, and today the city is one of the few large West Coast cities without a Chinatown.6 The Chinese Reconciliation Foundation is working hard to bring this history to the general public and establish a Tacoma park where healing can begin.