One of the legacies of the earliest Sikh and Indian immigrants to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century was the creation of the Ghadar Party, a political movement based in northern California that sought to promote India’s liberation from British rule.
Led by Indian expatriates in the United States, the Ghadar Party was formed in 1913. One of its main activities was the publishing of literature to promote resistance to British rule and for a free India. Obviously a threat to the ruling class, the literature was banned in India, and upon their capture, the Ghadarites were often imprisoned or executed as terrorists by the British.
This year, the San Francisco headquarters of the Ghadar Party has been opened to the public by the Indian Consulate as a museum. The printing press that the Ghadar Party used to print their literature is also now on display at the Gurdwara in Stockton, California. However, while it was previously believed that the Ghadar Party was founded in California, historians now place the genesis of the movement further north in the state of Oregon, where Johanna Ogden recently mapped a forgotten (and primarily) Sikh settlement of laborers in 1910 known as “Hindu Alley”.
According to an article in The Daily Astorian, it now appears that before California, the Ghadar Party was seeded in Oregon one hundred years ago by this group of laborers in Astoria, a small labor town along the Columbia River.
“…the Daily Budget printed a notice on May 30, 1913, announcing an invitation to hear Har Dyal, a Stanford professor and “noted philosopher and revolutionist in India.” Dyal delivered a lecture on India. His presentation sparked the founding of the Ghadar party, a revolutionary nationalist party that was “an uncompromising and radical new direction for Indian nationalist politics.”
The Ghadar Party was founded in a meeting that took place in Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria before the movement became based in Stockton and San Francisco in California. This discovery offers significant insight as we follow the steps of the earliest Sikh and Indian immigrants to this country.
This October, this historical significance will not to be forgotten as the City of Astoria will be commemorating the founding of the Ghadar Party one hundred years ago in their city. Johanna Ogden and noted Sikh American historian Dr. Bruce La Brack have been involved in documentation of this history and the growing plans for the centenary celebration. In a recent appeal to the Sikh community (see below), Dr. La Brack describes the process that has led to the celebration of this historical milestone for Astoria and for Sikh Americans.
This historic event deserves our attention and demands our participation. If you would like more information or can act as a resource, please contact Johanna Ogden or Dr. La Brack at the contact information listed at the end of their message to the Sikh community, below.
To the Sikh Community,
We wish to announce some exciting developments related to evolving plans by the City of Astoria, Oregon, to celebrate the centenary of the founding meeting of the Ghadar Party in that city, currently scheduled for October 1-5, 2013.
Further, we wish to seek your advice, and, perhaps, eventual participation in this event, to ensure a Sikh presence and input in these activities. To understand how this all came about, permit me give you some background, because it is rather unusual set of events that has led to this point.
In April 2011, I was contacted by the editor of the Oregon Historical Quarterly asking me to review an article submitted to them on the topic: “Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River.” Eventually, this article appeared in Vol. 113 (Summer 2012), No. 2, pp.164-197, of the Oregon Historical Quarterly. I thought it was an intriguing and well-researched account of early Sikh pioneer life in Oregon employing original documents, photography, and a variety of historical sources. The author, Johanna Ogden, drew upon her University of British Columbia MA thesis (2010), Oregon and Global Insurgency: Punjabis of the Columbia River Basin, for this article. We eventually met (she also lives in Portland, Oregon) and found we had many academic research interests in common.
This past November Johanna and I gave an invited public presentation, “From The Dalles to Astoria: Re-Remembering Punjabis of Early 1900’s Oregon,” at the History Pub Monday sponsored, in part, by the Oregon Historical Society and held at McMenamins Kennedy School. We were amazed that almost three 300 people attended, many of whom were surprised to learn that Sikhs had ever immigrated to Oregon, let alone been involved in the founding of a radical political movement that began in Astoria.
We were encouraged by many of the audience to make this apparently forgotten chapter in Oregon history more widely known. Through a set of fortuitous circumstances, Ms. Ogden and I eventually began correspondence with various historical and governmental groups in Astoria, explaining to them how central their town was in the formation of Ghadar, and the subsequent national and international implications of that event.
program of the same topic in Astoria to make the community more aware of this part of their local history. On February 10th, at the invitation of Karen Mellin, who President of the Astoria City Council, we visited Astoria where we met with a number of local historians, politicians, and community members. From there, things moved rather quickly and what was to be a single-evening presentation has, in one month, morphed into proposals for a full scale, city-sponsored celebration of Ghadar and early Punjabi immigrants! While we are working on the many details yet to be decided, it appears that activities may include: a festival of Sikh or Sikh-themed films (mostly documentary); a public display of portions of the UC-Berkeley “Echoes of Freedom” traveling exhibit with additional panels on Oregon-specific history; and some type of public symposia or modest lecture/conference held at the local junior college.
The mayor has already issued a proclamation (attached) and things are moving rapidly forward. Astoria is even considering initiating a “Sister City” relationship with Amritsar. I am very grateful for the enthusiasm of the Astoria community and their support for a Ghadar celebration. However, we all are concerned that since there are few local Sikhs in the area, that somehow the celebration might evolve to be largely a non-Sikh affair, which seems both a bit odd and awkward, at least to us. The Astoria organizers are quite open to any suggestions about how to insure that contemporary Sikh perspectives are represented.
I think Sikhs and Punjabis, not only in the US West Coast and Canada, but perhaps even in India, might be interested in this kind of event. Some might even wish to participate in it and/or share their constructive suggestions about how to structure the celebration to appropriately include Sikh viewpoints. We have been in touch with, among many others, Harish Puri, and he is considering coming to Astoria in October.
This notice is simply to let you know about this rather unexpected and potentially significant civic event. While Johanna Ogden and I set this in motion, it will be largely planned and executed by the City of Astoria, although we shall continue to act as consultants to the council and will be part of the October events.
If you wish to correspond with either Ms. Ogden or me, we would appreciate hearing from you. We will share your suggestions with the appropriate officials. Since the date of the celebration is only a bit over eight months away, sooner would be better than later if you have any ideas or suggestions related to the event. We look forward to corresponding with anyone interested in helping to assure the Astoria Ghadar centennial celebration is a successful educational event.
Bruce La Brack
Bruce La Brack
2349 NE 17th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97212
Home phone: 503-288-0581
[Cross-posted on The Langar Hall]