DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock joined with members of the city's Asian American and Pacific Islander community on Monday afternoon to remove an anti-Chinese historical marker from Lower Downtown.
The marker at 20th and Blake streets, across from Coors Field, misrepresents a violent riot on Oct. 31, 1880, in what was then Denver's Chinatown. It reads "Hop Alley/Chinese Riot of 1880," when the riot that took place can be more accurately described as an "anti-Chinese race riot."
Hancock was on hand for the removal of the marker, joined by the Mayor's Office of Social Equity and Innovation (OSEI), members of Denver's historic Chinese families and Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU).
"We had a chance to right a wrong," Hancock said. "It’s never too late to apologize for something that’s happened."
The removal was a follow-up to the City of Denver's formal apology for the 1880 riot, which killed one man and injured hundreds of others.
"I, Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of the City and County of Denver, by virtue of the authority vested in me and on behalf of our city, do hereby sincerely apologize to the early Chinese immigrants and their descendants," Hancock said at an April 16 ceremony.
Denver was the fifth city – and the first outside California – to make this sort of apology to Asian Americans.
History Colorado was at the removal to accept the marker for preservation at its museum.
> The raw video below is of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issuing the apology in April:
1880 riot in Denver's Chinatown
According to History Colorado, Denver's Chinese population was scant prior to 1870, but immigrants looking for railroad and mining jobs came to Denver to earn a living.
About 500 Chinese people lived in Denver's Chinatown at its peak, according to Dr. William Wei, former Colorado State Historian and author of "Asians in Colorado." They lived in the heart of the city because of its centralized location.
In 1880, the United States was set to elect a president. Republican James Garfield squared off with Democrat Winfield Hancock.
“Hancock accused Garfield of importing cheap Chinese labor,” Wei said.
The issue hit home for many residents of the American West, including in Colorado. On Oct. 30, 1880, Garfield’s opposition held an anti-Chinese parade in Denver.
Tensions came to a head the next day. Around 2 p.m. Oct. 31, two white men drunkenly stumbled into a Wazee Street saloon.
“One of the drunken individuals struck one of the Chinese, initiating the riot,” Wei said. “That attracted 3,000 to 5,000 Denverites to descend upon Chinatown.”
The small Denver police force couldn’t manage the mob. The fire department tried to assist by spraying the mob with fire hoses, but that only enraged them more.
Hundreds of Chinese were arrested in the riot. Police told them it was for their own protection.
One man, Sing Lee, was killed. The mob brutally beat him and hanged him from a lamppost.
According to History Colorado, Chinatown business owners and residents lost more than $53,000 worth of property.
Denver’s first race riot was that day. It was just one of more than 200 across the American West around that time. It led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers.
This act was fully retracted with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives respectively passed resolutions officially condemning the Chinese Exclusion Act.
> The video below aired in April: Asian Americans want more than an apology from the city of Denver.
This report includes previous reporting by Nelson Garcia, Erin Powell and Mike Grady.
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