He was Ireland’s worst racist in America, a man who incited wholesale violence against Chinese immigrants in California in the 1870s.
Denis Kearney was born in Oakmount, County Cork, Ireland in this month in 1847. He emigrated to America and worked in several jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area.
During the period known as the Long Depression, which started in 1873, he became the most virulent attacker of Chinese laborers. His slogan was, simply, "the Chinese must go."
In July 1877, rampant anti-Chinese violence broke out in San Francisco, Kearney was elected Secretary of the newly formed Workingman's Party of California, a group of anti-Chinese workers and he led often violent attacks on Chinese workers on the railroads.
Historian Hubert Bancroft, considered the Workingmen's Party to be "ignorant Irish rabble, even though that rabble sometimes paraded the streets as a great political party.”
Kearney himself was subject to suspicion.
As The Argonaut newspaper noted, “When an organization, composed almost entirely of aliens, who are themselves here by the sufferance of a generous hospitality, band themselves together in defiance of the law to drive out a class, who, however objectionable, have the same legal rights as themselves, it is an act of insolent audacity that ought to move the indignation of every honest man.”
Despite such attacks, Kearney remained popular and traveled to the East Coast to try and capitalize on his fame.
Kearney sought the Vice Presidential nomination for the Greenback Party, which was actually quite progressive, but he never won it.
Kearney faded from sight after that, but the laws against Chinese that he helped pass were his legacy most notably the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Denis Kearney died in 1907.
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