Friday, May 10 marked the 145th anniversary of the completion of America's first transcontinental railroad. In 1869, the landmark moment connecting the country's two coasts was commemorated with the symbolic hammering of a golden spike, and an iconic photograph taken at Promontory Summit, Utah.
But that famous photo, which shows a crowd of men swarmed around two locomotives, has always been marred by a glaring omission: not one Chinese person. Not one of the 12,000 laborers from China who toiled to build the Central Pacific Railroad. They apparently weren't allowed to take part in this historic photo.
So last Friday, a group of Asian Americans -- including descendants of the Chinese railroad workers -- celebrated the railroad's 145th anniversary by recreating the famous photo at Promontory Summit, with locomotives and everything. Only this time, Chinese people were definitely included in the photo.
A 'photographic act of justice' for Chinese laborers at Golden Spike
Some 200 Chinese Americans, Chinese citizens and other Asian American friends took part in Friday's commemorative event:
The meeting of the rails on May 10, 1869, after nearly five deadly, costly years linked together the industrial East and the resource-rich West for the first time. A journey that previously took six months by ox-drawn wagon was reduced to six days. The most famous photograph from that day shows hundreds of railroad employees, executives and other celebrators — but none of the more than 11,000 Chinese workers who laid track over the Sierra Nevada, across the desert and into Utah. The Chinese workers' contribution, said New York City photographer Corky Lee, is "a neglected and forgotten," piece of American history.Also on Friday, at a ceremony in Washington DC, the U.S. Department of Labor inducted the transcontinental railroad's Chinese workers into the Labor Hall of Honor. Sometimes proper acknowledgement takes a century and a half.
Saturday's visit and photograph, he said, "is as an act of photographic justice." The photographer worked with a Utah-based coalition, the Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Commemoration Project, to bring the group together on Saturday. He had the 200, including visitors from China's Guandong Province, pose in front of the replica locomotives, as he did when a similar group came to the anniversary celebration in 2002.
More here: Descendants Of Chinese Laborers Reclaim Railroad's History