One of the most appalling practices in history, lynching - the extrajudicial hanging of a person accused of a crime - was commonplace in American society less than 100 years ago. The word often conjures up horrifying images of African Americans hanged from lampposts or trees. However, what many do not know is that while African Americans certainly suffered enormously at the hands of a white majority, they were not the only victims of this practice. In fact, the victims of the largest mass lynching in American history were Chinese (Johnson). On October 24th, 1871, a white mob stormed into the Chinatown of Los Angeles. Burning and looting buildings with Chinese owners, they shot at, tortured, and hung every Chinese person they came across.
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This discovery occurred in 1848, and initiated the California Gold Rush (“The Gold Rush of 1849”). Thousands of people from all over the world rushed to get their share of what they believed to be the mother lode. One region that was struck especially by gold fever was Guangdong province, in southeastern China (“History of Chinese Americans”). California became known there as gam saan, or “Gold Mountain” (“Chinese and Westward Expansion”). Droves of dirt-poor farmers boarded ships headed for California: most of them wanted to make a quick buck and then return home. Unfortunately, this idealistic notion proved to be an illusion, as by the time the Chinese arrived in California, most of the major deposits had been mined out. Without enough money to pay for a return trip, they were, “stranded in a strange new land far from home” (“Chinese Immigration”).
As reality set in, the Chinese struggled to find employment. Some banded together and laboriously extracted what little gold there was left. They often worked on areas that were considered by whites to be unfruitful, and labored to yield a profit (“History of Chinese Americans”). Other Chinese immigrants toiled over the railroads. One project in particular employed thousands of Chinese: the Transcontinental Railroad. The Transcontinental Railroad was built from 1863 to 1869, and put thousands of laborers to work. At one time, it