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.
“Invaders”: Black Ladies of the ILGWU and the Emergence of the Early Civil Rights Movement in New York City
By Janette Gayle
Black female industrial workers are strikingly absent from literature on the Great Migration and black industrial labor in the twentieth century. Studies like Joe William Trotter Jr.’s Black Milwaukee, James R. Grossman’s Land of Hope, Richard W. Thomas’s Life for Us Is What We Make It, and Peter Gottlieb’s Making Their Own Way have advanced our understanding of black industrial workers and their importance in the making of black communities in the Midwest and northern urban industrial cities, but they focus almost exclusively on the experiences of skilled men. Skilled women are virtually absent from these studies. But women were there. If we look closely at the sources, another picture comes into focus, one in which women such as Maida Springer Kemp, Eldica Riley, Edith Ransom, and thousands of others were indeed part of the black industrial workforce in New York City. If we look closely we will also see that the Great Migration was not a completely unskilled migration. Many migrants -- men as well as women -- were skilled workers. The ones who caught my eye were the dressmakers.
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