Antioch Mayor proposes formal apology, historic recognition for city’s Chinatown being burned down in 1870’s

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe held a press conference with other local officials and community leaders denouncing anti-Asian hate and announcing proposals for recognizing the history of Chinese in Antioch, including the racist attacks against them in the late 1800’s.

Signs proclamation denouncing anti-Asian racism; also proposes youth mural project

By Allen Payton

During a press conference held Wednesday morning, April 14, 2021, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe proposed a resolution formally apologizing for the burning down of the city’s Chinatown in 1876, a historic district in the area of the city’s downtown where it was located and funding a permanent display in the Antioch Historical Society Museum, and an historic mural project by Antioch youth. In addition, he signed the proclamation adopted by the city council during last night’s meeting denouncing anti-Asian racism. (See video of press conference)

Thorpe also mentioned an incident that occurred, yesterday an attack against two Asian women outside the County Market, the city’s largest Asian grocery store. According to Antioch Police Chief T Brooks, it was a strong arm robbery. More details will be released, today.

Community College Board Trustee Andy Li is presented with the proclamation by Mayor Thorpe during the press conference on Wednesday.


Unanimously approved by the Antioch City Council on April 13, 2021

WHEREAS, Antioch is home to diverse communities and has been for many generations;

WHEREAS, we are disturbed and alarmed by the severity and frequency of hate crimes and race-based harassment against Asians and the Asian Pacific Islander Communities associated with COVID-19;

WHEREAS, the Asian-American experience in the Bay Area is a complex and multi-faceted history; WHEREAS, the first major wave of Asians came to the Bay Area during the Gold Rush and many worked on the transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century and were met with racial hostility and animosity;

WHEREAS, in 1876, Antioch’s Chinatown was burned down and it later became Waldie Plaza. People of Chinese heritage were banned from walking Antioch City streets after sunset;

WHEREAS, during the late-nineteenth century, anti-Chinese sentiment resulted in conflict and extremely restrictive regulations and norms concerning where Asian Americans could live and in which occupations they could work, which were often enforced with violence;

WHEREAS, today, there are nearly 1.7 million Asians in the Bay Area, constituting nearly 24 percent of the overall population. We pledge to not repeat the egregious acts of discrimination in past and present history;

WHEREAS, having Chinese ancestry – or any other ancestry – does not make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19. No race, nationality or ethnicity is responsible for COVID-19;

WHEREAS, ignorance is the lifeblood of conspiracies that hamper our ability to fight the pandemic and endanger the most vulnerable; and

WHEREAS, the City of Antioch recognizes the negative impact of institutional and structural racism, past and present.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, LAMAR A. THORPE, Mayor of the City of Antioch, do hereby proclaim that racism against Asians and Asian Americans shall not be tolerated in any form, AND we stand in support of individuals and communities targeted by association with COVID-19, AND we urge everyone to interrupt instances of racisms and

intolerance by speaking up in support of equity, justice, and inclusion.


The mayor then presented the signed proclamation to Andi Li, Area 4 Representative on the Contra Costa Community College District Board of Trustees. Li thanked the mayor and council for the proclamation and shared some additional history of Chinese residents in Antioch and the U.S. helping build the transcontinental railroad and the levees in the Delta.

“Thank you, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe and the city council, for joining many other government entities and passing the resolution to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes. Thank you, Antioch residents for supporting the API community.  I am very honored to accept the resolution,” Li said. “In America, the overall hate crime rate decreased by 7% in 2020, but against Asian Americans, it increased by 160%.  It created hardship for many Asian families including my family. The resolution is very important for Asian Pacific Islanders, especially those living in Antioch.  It let us see the support from the community during this hardship. So, thank you very much.”

Thorpe’s Proposals

Dwayne Eubanks, president of the Antioch Historical Society spoke about a permanent display at the museum.

Thorpe proposed “funding some sort of permanent exhibit at the Antioch Historical Society Museum.”

Dwayne Eubanks, president of the society spoke of “a permanent program with exhibits to examine our past. May is Asian Pacific Islander Month and we will be having displays.”

According to Stan Davis, Treasurer of the Historical Society, as well as the city’s former Director of Public Works and City Engineer, who has lived here since 1964, no previous mayor or council has proposed an apology for the past anti-Chinese racism and burning down of Antioch’s Chinatown that he’s aware of.

The mayor also proposed the city “designate a Chinatown Historic District with appropriate signage and story which timelines what happened, here for residents to enjoy and others to come to our community to enjoy.”

Former Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts, who is president of the Rivertown Preservation Society, then spoke saying, “today we take the first step in recognizing a difficult part of our city’s history.” Following are her prepared remarks:

“On behalf of the Rivertown Preservation Society I am proud to be here today as we gather to ensure that the past and present story of Antioch is one that acknowledges our complex history and generations of diverse populations that built our community. Some may say that what happened in the past has no effect on who we are today. We believe this to be incorrect and that to the contrary, to not acknowledge the wrongs or intolerances of yesterday, can only make more plausible that they may happen again.  When we speak of atrocities such as 9/11 or Nazi concentration camps, for those that experienced these times, they will tell you to never forget.  To not remember, to not discuss, to not teach about acts that caused great pain, and human despair, we are most likely doomed to repeat.  Whether it effects a nation or a small community, memorializing difficult times and times of great celebration should be and frankly must be part of our story.

So, today the City of Antioch takes a first step in remembering a very tough part of our history, of our Chinese residents who were so instrumental in building our Antioch community and communities of the bay area and state of California. And what makes this acknowledgment and proclamation important and of even more significance is the intolerable hate that has most recently befallen our Asian communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here, in Antioch, we will fight against racism and intolerance against people of all ethnicities and fight for equity, justice and inclusion and by doing so we will never forget.”

“Our Parks and Recreation Commission will play a role as well,” Thorpe said. Marie Arce, chair of the commission then spoke briefly of “acknowledging our wrongdoings”.

To “engage our youth” Thorpe then proposed “a downtown mural project that recognizes our Chinese American residents’ contributions to the community.”

Antioch School Board Vice President, Dr. Clyde Lewis spoke next, saying “in order for us to understand ourselves, where we want to be, we have to look at where we’ve been.” He wants to have an “encouraging conversation in moving our community forward.” Lewis spoke of his own family, his wife and children, who are of the AAPI community.

Thorpe then introduced District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker, and mentioned Lewis and Eubanks, saying, “as African Americans, we know the pain of not having your government acknowledge” and offering “no apologies, no reparations…for historical wrongs.”

District 1 Antioch Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker shared her thoughts during the press conference.

His fourth proposal was for “advancing a resolution that officially apologizes for the terrorizing of our Chinese residents.” That will require formal council approval and Thorpe said he will place it on a future council agenda.

Torres-Walker spoke next saying, “I stand here, today as a Black Latina in solidarity with the API community against all racial hate and harm. What side of history are we on in Antioch, in the Bay Area and across our country? We stand here before you to recognize a moment in time. We are not born hateful. Hate is learned. Antioch has chosen to rise from the ashes of a horrible past into a more inclusive future. To move forward in the future where we are not defined by our past. We have got to do differently in the City of Antioch for communities of color and poor communities.”

She then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, saying “when we say ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…I cringe, because today we still do not have liberty, which is freedom…for people in dark bodies who face harm.”

“I’m happy to stand here, today in a dark body as a Black Latina to say ‘we see you’,” Torres-Walker added.

UPDATE: She later posted the following “Full modified statement from yesterday’s Mayor’s press conference” on her council Facebook page on Thursday, April 15:

“When you buy your first home, you don’t say I sure am going to fill it with hate. When you move to a community, you don’t say to yourself, I sure can’t wait to bring as much hate and harm to this community as possible. I stand here today as a black Latina in solidarity with the API community against all racial hate and harm,” said Torres-Walker. “I do not stand here today to apologize for whiteness. That is not my role. It is not my role as a person who has to show up every day in a dark body to apologize for white fragility, anti-blackness, transphobia, xenophobe, racism, classism, othering fear, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. That is not my role.”

Torres-Walker asked what side of history they were on today was the question where she highlighted people have been denied the privilege to walk freely on the streets and were forced underground.

“We are not born hateful. Hate is learned and passed down through generations and because Antioch has chosen to rise through the ashes of a horrible past into a more inclusive future we stand here before you all today united against racial hate,” said Torres-Walker. “We say that opportunity lives here in Antioch. Opportunity can only live here in Antioch when we all as Antioch residents fight just as hard for belonging as we have to get beyond our past and to move forward to a future where we are not defined by our past and we acknowledge our past so that everybody can belong.”

She thanked the Mayor for standing up today, but they needed to do better and differently for communities of color and poor communities.

“When we say I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America… I cringe,” stated Torres-Walker. “Today, we still do not have liberty which is freedom. We still do not have justice which is slow to come for communities of color and people in dark bodies who face harm.”

Thorpe then said he will be working with the historical society to develop the price tag for the permanent display at the museum and for establishing the historic Chinatown district.

Asked why this is being proposed now, Thorpe responded, “The impetus for this, now is we are all learning about this. As terms of this history of Antioch I learned about it when our former Mayor Don Freitas took me on a tour and told me about the tunnels. Eventually we would have gotten here because our council is very cognizant of culture and equity.”

Asked if there will be an effort to find the descendants of the owners of the land in Antioch’s Chinatown which includes Waldie Plaza and the two parking lots on each side of it that is now owned by the city, to compensate them, Thorpe responded that he will ask Eubanks to include that in the Historical Society’s research.

The funding will come from the General Fund, the mayor said, and the formal apology will be on the council agenda in early May. “I can apologize right here, right now but I think it’s more appropriate that the governing body do it…not just me,” Thorpe added.

the attachments to this post:

Andy Li presented with proclamation by Mayor Thorpe

Tamisha Torres-Walker spoke at the press conference.

Dwayne Eubanks Antioch Historical Society

Thorpe anti-Asian hate press conference

2 Comments to “Antioch Mayor proposes formal apology, historic recognition for city’s Chinatown being burned down in 1870’s”

  1. […] Beach, California to the descendants of Black owners it was taken  from 97 years ago. During his April 14 press conference about the matter, Thorpe said he would ask Antioch Historical Society President Dwayne Eubanks to […]

  2. […] seeking forgiveness and committing to rectification of past misdeeds.” (See related articles here and […]

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