While discussing Seattle's eclectic history today with my boss, the topic of the city's checkered past in its treatment of Chinese residents came up. Just over a century ago, bands of vigilante citizens would get together and hold race riots to round up and attack Chinese residents to "encourage" them to return home. This reminded me of an article I read about former Washington Governor John McGraw, who was recently honored with a statute in downtown Seattle. At a time when the Chinese were not popular, he had the courage to stand up to the mob to defend those who were being treated unjustly, even risking his own life. An inspiring reminder to stand up for others and to fight for what is right.
|Photo Credit: Seattle Times|
After running away from home in Maine, McGraw made his way west and ended up in Seattle, taking a job as one of four officers in the Seattle Police Department, Pattison said. He became police chief and later sheriff before being elected governor in 1892. He served just one term, from 1893-97.
Pattison said McGraw's proudest moment came in 1886 — 125 years ago this week — when as sheriff he repelled vigilantes who were trying to round up Chinese laborers in Seattle and send them back to China.
When the vigilantes from outside Seattle arrived, McGraw deputized 400 citizens to protect the Chinese. After some of the Chinese workers were put on a passenger ship to take them back to China, McGraw boarded the vessel and said it couldn't leave.
He told the Chinese that he would protect those who wished to stay in Seattle. Gunfire erupted, and a bullet went through McGraw's hat and two through his coat, Pattison said. The vigilantes finally ran away.
"The city of Seattle has done a wonderful job expanding and upgrading McGraw Park," said Pattison. "The land was bought after he died, entirely with private funds, and the statue was commissioned and erected with private funds as well — it was then turned over to the city."
After he was governor, McGraw worked with the Alaska gold rush, was president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and president of First National Bank, Pattison said.
"But he told his daughter, Kate McGraw Sanford, my great-grandmother, that of all his accomplishments in life, he was most proud of standing firm against those who tried to extract Seattle's Chinese American community — which he viewed as against the Constitution and their right to liberty."