It remains unclear when the first Chinese settler arrived in Baltimore. Migration records
indicate that Chinese settlers may have arrived in Baltimore in the early 1870's. The only individual who helped
chronicle the history of events, however, was Gee Ott. On October 25, 1932, Mr. Ott told a Baltimore
Post reporter that he came to America as a teenager with expectations of
finding silver and gold in Montana. Mr. Ott owned the Empire Restaurant on 200 West Fayette Street during
the 1880's. This information suggests that Mr. Ott arrived in Baltimore around 1885.
Why did Chinese settlers migrate to Baltimore? Several factors influenced their migration
from California, Oregon, and Washington to the East Coast. The completion of the transcontinental railroad played
a pivotal role in the eastward migration of Chinese. Chinese laborers comprised almost 80 percent of the
construction workforce. When their work was completed in 1869, the laborers slowly ventured eastward in search
Another compelling factor that caused the eastern migration of Chinese settlers was the
anti-Chinese sentiment along the Pacific Coast. During the economic slump in the 1860's, discrimination against
Chinese residents skyrocketed -- Chinese laborers lost their jobs and there were anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco
and California. Courts provided little protection for Chinese litigants. In People
v. Hall, 4 Cal. 399, 404 (1854), for instance, the California Supreme Court
held that persons of Chinese ancestry could not testify in court against a person of Caucasian descent. Against this backdrop, Chinese
settlers arrived in Baltimore with hopes of escaping the humiliation and persecution that had become such an ingrained
aspect of their lives. While discrimination against Chinese residents did exist in Baltimore, it proved to be considerably
less than the discrimination they faced along the Pacific Coast. Lillian Kim, a local historian on the Baltimore
Chinese community, recalled her half sister state that living in Baltimore was the first time in her whole life
that she did not live in fear.
The first Chinatown in Baltimore was located on the 200 block of Marion Street and was surrounded
by Fayette Street on the south; Park Avenue on the east; Howard Street on the west; and Lexington Street on the
north. According to Leslie Chin, who wrote about Chinese in Baltimore, the early Chinatown consisted of Joss houses,
laundries, restaurants, Chinese merchants, and gambling houses for Chinese workers. After the first World War,
Chinatown moved two blocks north on Park Avenue and Mulberry Street because of city renewal.
From the research undertaken by the class, it appears that Chinese population in Baltimore
remained quite small. In 1941, for example, the Chinese population in Baltimore was only 400. Perhaps their
low numbers explain why Chinese residents lived relatively peaceful and isolated lives in Baltimore.
Their small number also appears to have enabled Chinese children to attend white public schools in Baltimore. Mrs.
Kim recounted how she was the only Chinese student in school throughout her entire education. In other places
with significant Chinese populations, such as in California, separate public schools were formed for Chinese children.
Yet, in Baltimore, the number of Chinese never reached such levels to call for the establishment of a separate
school. Moreover, despite the fact that two separate schools existed for blacks and whites prior to desegregation,
Chinese children in Baltimore were categorized as white for the purposes of education.
By allowing Chinese children to attend white public schools, Baltimore differed from other
southern states with racially segregated schools and a numerically small Chinese community. In Mississippi,
for example, Chinese merchant Gong Lum had a daughter who was admitted to white public school. On the afternoon
of her first day of school on October 28, 1924, however, the superintendent notified her that she was prohibited
from returning because she was not white. Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, 80 (1927). Gong Lum appealed the matter to the United States Supreme Court
and argued "If there is danger in the association [with Negroes], it is a danger from which one race is entitled
to protection just the same as another . . . The white race creates for itself a privilege that it denies to other
races; exposes the children of other races to risks and dangers to which it would not expose its own children.
This is discrimination." Id.
at 79. In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Taft, the Supreme Court
rejected Gong Lumís assertions and instead held, "A child of Chinese blood, born in, and a citizen of, the
United States, is not denied the equal protection of the laws by being classed by the State among the colored races
who are assigned to public school separate from those provided for the whites, when equal facilities for education
are afforded to both classes." Id.
Although the discrimination against Chinese in Baltimore was considerably less than in other
places, Chinese residents still were discriminated against in employment. Chinese women in Baltimore especially
experienced hardship in locating jobs outside family-owned businesses. Chinese men did not fare much better
in obtaining such jobs. When Mrs. Kim graduated high school, her cousin advised her that she would not find
employment other than in the government. Despite her cousinís warning, Mrs. Kim applied to several jobs in
the private sector. To her dismay, however, many of these employers informed Mrs. Kim that their policy was not
to hire Chinese. It was not until World War II that Chinese residents were able to obtain employment with
less difficulty. Because it was difficult for Chinese residents to find employment when they first arrived
in Baltimore, they established their niche in the restaurant and laundry businesses.
According to Mrs. Kim, many Chinese residents socially isolated themselves and concentrated
their thoughts on earning a living. Some of this isolation was voluntary and some imposed. Most Chinese
families were poor. Growing up as a child, Mrs. Kim remembers rushing home immediately after school to assist
her mother with the laundry business. Thus, Mrs. Kim and other Chinese children in Baltimore had few opportunities
to participate in after-school activities.
There is also little indication that significant numbers of Chinese married outside
of their race during the Jim Crow era. The idea of marrying a non-Chinese was generally frowned upon.
Maryland also had an antimiscegenation law which further discouraged intermarriage between racial groups. The law
did not, however, restrict marriages between Chinese and either blacks or whites.
The Marshall sisters played a key role in helping Chinese immigrants adapt to Baltimore
by encouraging religious conversion to Christianity and the use of the English language . There were three sisters,
Sarah, Frances and Daisy. In 1921, the oldest sister Sarah organized a Sunday School for Chinese immigrants
to learn English by studying the Bible at the YMCA. Sarah died soon after the classes began, but Frances
and Daisy continued working with Chinese immigrants. In 1924, the Marshall sisters moved the study group
to Grace & St. Peterís Church at 711 Park Avenue. The Grace & St. Peterís Church continued to grow in membership
until the late fifties, and even today Chinese residents constitute a significant percentage of the congregation.
There is some evidence of sustained interaction between some Chinese businessmen
and black residents. Black women often were employed in Chinese-owned laundries. Mrs. Kim suggested that
economic differences between the communities accounted for the limited interaction. Nevertheless, while the
riots in the 1960s caused much vandalism and violence throughout Baltimore City, not one Chinese business or home
was damaged. Mrs. Kim believes that the black people had no reason to destroy the property of the poor and
struggling Chinese. After the riots, many Chinese families relocated to the suburbs of Baltimore.
The Certificate of Naturalization for Lucy Lee, the mother of
Mrs. Lillian Kim.