There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Joplin’s early Chinese community, although small, was tenacious despite being frequent targets of crime and racism. On a Saturday night in late January, 1916, a free-for-all erupted at the Low Shanghai restaurant after a patron refused to pay for his dinner. When confronted by Jung Toy, the owner of the restaurant, the man put on a pair of brass knuckles and hit Toy. Members of the Chinese wait staff rushed to the assistance of Toy which then induced a number of other diners to join the fray. Brass knuckles, a knife, and several chairs were used in the ensuing melee. Sixty year old Jung Ginn, who was also known as John Lee, was seriously injured when someone hit him over the right eye with a pair of brass knuckles. The attackers fled the restaurant, but G.H. Ritter, Thomas Hildreth, and Harvey B. Young were arrested a short time later.

Jung Toy had immigrated from Canton, China, possibly in 1882, and likely named his restaurant after the region’s greatest city. The attack did not dissuade Jung Toy from remaining in the restaurant business. A glance at the 1920 census reveals that Jung Toy remained in the business at least four more years. However, by 1930, Jung Toy’s life had taken a turn for the worse. If the same Jung Toy, he reappears in the census in Rexford, Montana, a widower (he had been married in Joplin) and reduced to a simple cook at a railroad restaurant.

The Unfortunate Life of Jung Ling

Life was not easy in Joplin for a Chinese immigrant. The Chinese community was minuscule in the midst of a city whose population was overwhelming white.  In previous posts, we covered the lives and affairs of Joplin’s immigrant community, and found that their lives were fraught with hardship and hostility. Jung Ling, sometimes referred to Lo Jung Sing or just Jung Sing, was one of those immigrants. During his time in Joplin he had to deal with his American wife absconding with his life savings and was forced to defend his business with a pistol.

In June of 1907, Jung attempted to gain legal entry for his son into America. During an interview with a government investigator, Jung claimed his son was born in the United States. When the boy was four, Jung took him to China to live with Jung’s Chinese wife. Now that his son was older, Jung wanted the boy to return to the United States to pursue an education. The government investigator, identified only as Mr. Tape, was a Chinese-American reportedly renowned for his ability to uncover and expose illegal Chinese immigrants. Mr. Tape rarely ventured into Southwest Missouri as few Chinese immigrants made the area their home. Reportedly at this time Joplin was home to only five Chinese residents and Carthage had only one Chinese resident. We do not know whether or not Jung was successful in his attempt to bring his son to the United States, but we do know that he was living alone four years later.

The same year, Jung, who owned both the Troy Laundry (located at 109 West Fifth Street) and a restaurant (in a 1909 Joplin city directory it is simply called “Chinese Restaurant” located at 117 East Fifth and 624 ½ Main Streets – Google Maps indicates the laundry was located roughly where Columbia Traders is today and that both businesses were across the street from each other) found himself in trouble once again. Jung was working late at his restaurant on a Wednesday evening when four strange men entered. The men sat down as if they were going to order a meal. Jung walked over to take their order. Without warning, the men jumped to their feet and attacked Jung with a blackjack. Frantically, Jung tried to escape out the back door, only to be beaten and choked into unconsciousness by his attackers.

Twenty-one hours passed before friends of Jung aroused him with loud knocks on his door.  The thieves had locked him inside, perhaps to create the illusion that the restaurant was closed for business and to prevent a sooner discovery of their victim. Jung managed to unlock the door before he fell back into unconsciousness. A broken blackjack club, the metal shot used to give the weapon its heft spilled across the floor, illustrated the brutality of the attack. Once again, Jung’s savings had been stolen.

It was not until two weeks later, when the Joplin police had arrested a notorious robber, Arlie Smith, that Jung had the chance to identify one of his attackers.  The Chinese immigrant still bore the wounds inflicted upon him from a fortnight before, but was by no means fearful when he spied Smith in a cell.  The Joplin News-Herald reported that Jung leapt forward, prepared to attack Smith.  Smith, meanwhile, dismissed Jung with a slur, and laughed.  It’s unknown if Smith was tried for his robbery and assault of Jung, but already accused of other such thefts, it’s likely he was sent off to the penitentiary for one crime or another.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald

A Playground Not For All

Joplin swimming pool circa 1913

African Americans were generally not welcomed at swimming pools like this one at the Joplin Country Club.

In 1910, the total black population of Joplin was approximately 800 individuals out of a total population of approximately 32,000.  Thus, the African American community represented only about 2.5% of the city’s population.  Despite being such an insignificant portion of the population, the de facto laws of segregation were in strong effect in 1913.  The effect of the segregation struck one prominent Joplin businessman when he took his son to the local playground.  He recounted, “The other night I went to the playground with my son.  It made my heart ache to see the wistful faces of the negro children outside the fence, and know that they could not enter.”

It was not merely the denial of the playground to the black children that upset the businessman, but also that, “Unlike white children the negro kiddies cannot have the swimming privilege of the amusement parks of the district.”  Additionally, the businessman noted, “they are not allowed to attend many moving picture theaters, and are confined to a balcony in those places they are allowed to enter.  The streets and alleys are the only places they are welcome.  When they grow up they are unwelcome almost everyplace they visit.  It is not right.”

As a result of the segregation, the businessman pledged $250 to the establishment of a playground where black children, as well the general poor, could visit and play.  It would not be the first donation by a businessman to benefit the black community of Joplin, previously Thomas Connor had paid for the construction of four African American churches some years earlier.  Such sentiments were a start toward a better approach to a society of different races, but unfortunately along the reasoning of “separate but equal,” not equality for all.  The solution in 1913 Joplin was not to open the playground to children of all races, but to simply build another playground.

Source: Joplin News-Herald, 1910 United States Census