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Racist Violence in Hawaiʻi

Aloha e,

Recent violence against Asian Americans, the March killing of 8 Spa workers in Atlanta (6 were Asian women) by a white gunman and a violent attack against an Asian American woman on the streets of New York City are recent examples of racial violence against Asians. These violent episodes reminded many of the 1982 beating death of Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit by white men, who thought he was Japanese whom they blamed for decline in the U.S. auto industry.

One of the most outrageous examples of racist violence in Hawaiʻi was the 1889 lynching of Japanese store keeper and former contract laborer, Katsu Goto, in Honokaa, Hawaiʻi in 1889! Four white men were arrested, tried and convicted of manslaughter. Soon after two of them escaped custody, one received a full pardon. The fourth served his sentence, but upon release was welcomed back to his community. I recommend reading the excellent article by Gaylord C. Kubota.

While these violent attacks attract public attention, the underlying systemic racism often gets overlooked. Hawaiʻi’s plantation system used racial manipulation to divide workers and maintain control. Workers were segregated into racial camps and a divide and conquer strategy was employed to keep them from working together to improve their lives.

The ILWU had to overcome these divisions as labor organizers sought the creation of one big industrial union, with worker democracy and equality as guiding principles. Sugar worker, Tony Bise explains how immigrant groups were segregated by plantation owners.

Former plantation store worker and union activist, Mitsue “Butch” Thompson, explains how racial unity was a key to ILWU organizing that led to a major victory in the 1946 sugar strike. This 79 day strike marked the beginning of the end of “Big 5” hegemony and the oligarchy dominance of Hawaiʻi’s working class!


I’m pleased that every month we bring you new stories from our labor history archive in the AQ Bulletin and posted on our website: www.laborhistoryhawaii.org.

Our documentary, about the life and times of Ah Quon “AQ” McElrath, The Struggle Never Ends, tells how AQ provided leadership to this historic chapter in Hawaii’s past! Look for it to be released in 2022! We still need another $20,000 for full funding.

If you want to give: Checks may be made to UH Foundation payable to “UH Foundation” (noting “AQ McElrath Fund” on the memo line) and mailed to: University of Hawai’i Foundation, P.O. Box 11270, Honolulu, HI 96828. Or you may donate online at: www.uhfoundation.org/AQ .

Mahalo, Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer






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