100 Years Later – Bellingham WA Apologizes To Sikhs


1907 Bellingham mob forced East Indian workers from town


I am so ashamed of my hometown and also so proud that 100 years later, my village has had the grace and privilege of officially saying “We are so sorry!” to Sikhs everywhere!

Events marking the 100th anniversary of the 1907 race riots:

  • “A Day of Healing and Reconciliation,” Whatcom County Courthouse Rotunda, Tuesday at noon.
  • “The Curse of Bellingham,” a documentary about how the events of 1907 echo in the treatment of immigrants today, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Community to Community Development, 203 W. Holly St., Suite 318.
  • Open House at Guru Nanak Gursikh Temple, 176 E. Pole Road, 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 13.
  • Displays at the Bellingham Public Library and Western Washington University’s Wilson Library.


“History of Immigration 101,” developed by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 18

From The Bellingham Herald

Unfortunately, 100 years ago racism was not only tolerated but encouraged in the pages of this newspaper.

Tuesday marks the 100-year anniversary of Bellingham’s “Hindu riots,” when a mob rounded up the city’s East Indian mill workers and ordered them out of town. The workers were intimidated and, in some cases, assaulted. Police did nothing.

At the time, The Bellingham Herald contained editorials with some of the most demeaning and hateful stereotyping you will ever read. And the other two newspapers in Bellingham, both of which are related to our history, were as bad or worse

The day after the riots, The Bellingham Herald contained this passage: “The Hindu is not a good citizen. It would require centuries to assimilate him, and this country need not take the trouble. Our racial burdens are already heavy enough to bear.”

The piece went on to insult the intelligence and work skills of East Indians. Later pieces, and those in the other papers, used racial epithets and insults that today are not acceptable for publication in a community newspaper.

Some of the editorials spoke out against the riots, saying mob rule was not the way to run the city. But even those editorials agreed that no one wanted East Indians in town and that the citizens of Bellingham were better off after East Indians were driven from the city.

It’s time to apologize for the venomous racism, for the demeaning talk, for the refusal to defend human beings against a mob because of their skin tone and ethnicity. We apologize to the East Indian people in our community today, and to any right-thinking person who is disgusted by the actions this newspaper took in one of the darkest times in our community’s history. We are disgusted too.



Filed under Multicultural, Pacific Northwest, Sikhi

12 responses to “100 Years Later – Bellingham WA Apologizes To Sikhs

  1. kamallarosekaur

    Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh

    My only involvement in Bellingham’s attempts to come clean to Sikhs (not Hindus) was very small. I tried to get a major Sikh organization involved to boost the Sikh side of these events a bit. The city would have loved a parade, in truth. But I failed in this. However, local Sikhs did a great job. Bellingham does not have a Gurdwara but there is one in the county, in a little town on the border.

    I think this is a great story but it hasn’t been picked up by Sikh media, forums or blogs, to my knowledge.

  2. kamallarosekaur

    Thank you Gurucharanjit Singh!

    “Bellinghamsters” is what we call ourselves.

    The whole Pacific NW was simply terrific in our community support of Sikhs after 9-11. Seattle had a huge candle-light parade that went on for miles and miles expressing upset over a humble Sikh getting beat up in racial backlash against Muslims. Seattle Council of Churches, Interfaith, the Unitarian Universalists, “The Bellingham Herald” and other Pacific NW papers should all be honored by Sikhs everywhere for their fight against hate crimes and their activism on Sikh’s behalf, all within days of 9-11 happening, and since.

  3. [The Sikh Bulletin of September-October 2007 carried an article: ‘Bellingham Race Riots – Hindus Expelled from the City’, by Inder Singh. Although any body from India at that time and even in 1960, when I came to N. America, was called Hindu, almost all the people expelled from Bellingham were Sikhs. This editor graduated from Western Washington State College Bellingham- now called Western Washington State University – in 1962 with M. Ed. degree. When I asked the Head of my Department for a letter of recommendation to pursue PhD he refused because he wanted me to return directly to India. A fellow student who was native of Bellingham told me that the Department Head was a long standing member of Ku Klux Klan and even then a black man could not spend a night in that town. Other than that incident I have very fond and friendly memories of Bellingham. In fact since I was teaching just across the border in British Columbia, for almost three years after graduation I was a frequent visitor to the WWSC campus to visit with friends. We commend The Bellingham Herald for its honest expression of regret over its policy 100 years ago. How the times have changed for good. Then a handful of Sikhs were not allowed to disembark from Komagata Maru in Vancouver Harbor; today the Premier of the province wants to facilitate immigration from Panjab. ED.]

  4. kamallarosekaur

    Hi Hardev Singh,

    I was in 2nd grade in 1962 attending the elementary school at WWSC (now WWU) called Campus School. I lived on Forest Street (2 blocks below campus) three houses from the playground – very close to the International House. I can almost imagine I saw you back then.

    Did you know “Uncle” Paul Woodring? It is now called the “Woodring School of Education” and I have just started working at the CEP (Center for Educational Pluralism) there, located in my old elementary school building, now Miller Hall.

  5. Valerie Rose

    Thank you, Kamala, for this important historical perspective, and for celebrating the healing actions last year. The town of Bellingham has been a special place in my life – I attended Fairhaven College from 1978-83 (it’s part of Western WA University) and many dear friends live there. Being Caucasian, I was pretty blind to Bellingham’s contemporary and historical racism – until my friend Vonita was wrongly accused of theft by the WWU police. She was one of very few African-American students on campus at the time, and the WWU police made the lazy assumption that any dark-skinned student was suspect. Vonita explained that she’d endured this kind of abuse growing up in Seattle, and was now struggling as one of very few people of color at WWU. Her experiences challenged me to own and examine my own racist assumptions. Next week, during a Martin Luther King celebration at Skagit Community College (25 mi. south of Bellingham) I will attend a talk by Cecily Hazelrigg-Hernandez on “Power and Privilege.” She is a graduate of the Law and Diversity program at Fairhaven College, and Gonzaga University School of Law. Attending her talk will help my ongoing education as an privileged person who can choose to ignore or challenge racism. It’s inspiring that Ms. Hazelrigg-Hernandez studied at WWU – the college, and Bellingham, have come a long way in the last century – and there’s much work to do before we can all transcend the prison of bigotry.

  6. kamallarosekaur

    Thanks Valerie,

    My parents and their friends (professors at WWU) fought hard for civil rights, but Bellingham was completely “gora” when I was a child. It is less so now – but still pretty “white” for sure. WWU hired Dr. Thadeus Spratlen, the first Black professor around 1963 and WWU established the College of Ethnic Studies by 1970 or so. This was very very early, but this “college” was cut back to a “program” due to lack of students and funds some years later.

    Valerie, after 9-11, you marched in the big candle-light parade in Seattle in response to hate crime against Sikhs and USA Muslims. Can you share about that?

  7. kamallarosekaur

    “I rented a room directly across from the college in a home all rented out to the students. Those houses must have given way now to high rise apartments. Even if I had heard of Uncle Paul Woodring it was so long ago, I don’t remember it now. I do remember though, at that time the number of people crossing Blaine border between Canada and USA was so small and my crossing the border so frequent, most of the officers knew me to let me through just by face recognition.
    Regards, HSS”

    Yes! Up until the 60s Rebellion going across the border into Canada was cozy and fun and fast. “Hi Don!” or “Hi Pat!” was all the “questioning” my parents endured. Now the “Peace Arch” should be taken down, pure and simple. As children we loved running through that historic monument, jumping from USA to Canada with freedom and ease. Wish I had stayed on the Canada side when I still could!

  8. Pardeep singh

    i love bellingham
    Guru nanak perkash gurdwara (damdami taksal) bellingham

    • paramjit singh

      hi pardeep , paramjit singh from vancouver bc , i like to knw is there any gurudwara in bellingham and how many sikh family live there thx , pls email me at

  9. Grace Kauer

    It is indeed a good song we know of apologies to our dear Sikh communities here. May there be a continued understanding of the Saba /Saint Servant. Sincerely, Grace Kaur

  10. Kirpal

    It is with much happiness that I see how different things are now. I live in Vancouver and absolutely love it but even here, there were times of racism. Many different nationalities get along great now.
    Sikhs have been part of the British Armed forces during the World Wars yet were denied basic rights.
    Thank you for this article

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