Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown
By Scott D. Seligman
Viking Press (2016)
Reviewed by Emily Brooks
In Tong Wars, Scott Seligman tracks the rise, internal functioning, and conflicts of New York City’s two main Chinese gangs, or tongs, from the 1880s to the 1930s. Seligman provides a thoroughly researched and tightly focused study of the On Leong and Hip Sing tongs that battled for control in the city’s Chinatown. He describes these groups as semi-underground fraternities that served social purposes, but whose primary functions involved running gambling parlors, and extracting payment from businesses operating in their respective territories. The violent clashes between the two groups receive particular attention in Seligman’s narrative. He mines newspaper articles, federal and state census records, court records, and Chinese exclusion era case files to track tong members through these conflicts with impressive detail. The author also uses these sources to show that the tongs formed a significant institutional presence in NYC’s Chinatown. The institutional landscape in Chinatown included regional and clan societies, as well as the tongs. These societies provided mutual aid and social connections within and across cities. Seligman’s exploration into the Tongs will prove of interest to readers curious about how Chinese immigrants, who were excluded from many elements of American society, formed their own institutions, and how these institutions then competed for dominance.
“[T]hey’re knocking down negroes ‘round here”: Public Racial Violence and Black Self-Defense in Early 20th Century NYC
By Patricia M. Salmon
During the past several years I have researched and documented more than two dozen murders involving Staten Island and/or Staten Islanders. Many have been quite unique. The following is a killing that occurred in Manhattan with the killer attempting to utilize a series of Staten Island transports in an effort to permanently discard of the body. While his explanations for committing the crime and his actions were certainly exceptional, it is here once again proven that unreciprocated love will lead many individuals to behavior that is neither rational nor amusing.
By James D. Livingston
For over six weeks in May and June of 1896, New York was fixated on the sensational trial of Mary Alice Livingston for the alleged murder of her mother. During the lengthy trial, Governor Levi Morton finally signed the controversial bill that would in 1898 consolidate Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx into the city, more than doubling the city’s population and increasing its area tenfold. Thomas Edison’s new fluoroscope was on display at the Electrical Exposition, and people stood in long lines for the novel experience of viewing the bones in their hands. Another Edison novelty then exciting New Yorkers was his “Vitascope” motion pictures showing at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall. The city’s first horseless carriage race was held, with John Jacob Astor one of the judges. But the bicycle was still king, judging from a twelve-page supplement of Hearst’s Journal that estimated 200,000 New Yorkers were avid cyclists. Two among them were millionaire “Diamond Jim” Brady and his close friend, actress and singer Lillian Russell. Russell cycled regularly in Central Park. The theatre season was nearing its end, and featured the final stage appearances of the year of Sarah Bernhardt, the French performer considered the outstanding actress of the period. But for over six weeks of 1896, the murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston was Manhattan’s top news.
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