美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory

Winston Ho 何嶸.
University, of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
https://nolachinese.wordpress.com
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjECC-8RKYRDV9eSUcqV57g

2017 Mar. (revised 2020 Dec.).


美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 0[Title page of the Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory 美南三省華僑商業指南.  1952.  From the Internet Archive.]

The Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory 美南三省華僑商業指南 is a bilingual directory for all Chinese American businesses in the Mid-South “Delta” region of northwest Mississippi, southeast Arkansas, and western Tennessee. A single 200-page edition was published by local Chinese Americans in 1952, a few years after the Second World War, during the golden age of Chinese groceries in the Mid-South Delta. 

The “Delta” is an alluvial plain surrounding the Mississippi River, bounded by Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the south and Memphis, Tennessee, to the north.  This region is blessed with fertile soil, several rivers, a long growing season, and mild winters.  It is predominantly rural and heavily cultivated, consisting of hundreds of towns and small cities such as Greenville, Clarksdale, Cleveland, and Greenwood in Mississippi, and Helena in Arkansas. The towns are surrounded by farms, all connected by a system of state highways, railroads, and the Mississippi River.  Cotton production has been the dominant industry here since before the Civil War, and the cotton industry remains a major employer.  Lumber and other agricultural products, such as corn, soybeans, and poultry are also produced in this region.  Education and the Air Force Base at Clarksdale are among the other major employers.  

B - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 6 (Mississippi)[Page 6, index for the Mississippi section.]  

The population is spread out over a large area.  The Delta is noted for its large African American minority, the descendants of enslaved Africans.  African Americans from the Delta are considered one of the founders of Blues music, the predecessor to Rock & Roll, R&B, and other forms of modern American music.  In the early twentieth-century, around the same time many Chinese families were entering the Delta, impoverished African Americans were migrating to mid-western cities such as Chicago and Detroit and northeastern cities such as Philadelphia and New York.  They went in search of better-paying manufacturing jobs in the factories, but they took their culture and their music with them, transforming American culture everywhere they went.  Many African Americans around North America today still have extended family living in the Delta.  

B - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 23 (Joe Gow Nue, Greenville)[Page 23, advertisement for the Joe Gow Nue Company No. 1 周狗女公司.  Joe Gow Nue oldest known Delta Chinese grocery and a landmark in downtown Greenville for most of the twentieth-century.  

中西雜貨,式式俱備,肉類瓜菜, 樣樣鮮美,僑胞惠顧,價錢相宜, 周狗女公司啟。{Chinese and Western groceries, wide selection [of], meat and produce, all delicious, for overseas patrons, reasonable prices, Joe Gow Nue Company.} ] 

The Chinese had been living in the Mid-South since the cotton plantations began hiring Chinese laborers as contract workers in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana in the 1870s during Reconstruction.  At some point in the late 1800s, the Chinese also began operating small stores in the region, though exactly how these stores began is currently debated by scholars. 

[Much of the early history of the Delta Chinese is still a matter of speculation, and there is presently little evidence to support anyone’s theory.  The most common theory is the “peddler theory,” where a few former plantation workers and railroad construction workers began selling goods to sharecroppers and tenant farmers on a small scale, gradually amassing enough capital to build small stores and eventually the first groceries.  My own “merchant theory” is that the Chinese merchants also came to the Mid-South in the 1870s to provision the Chinese laborers with supplies.  However, the Chinese merchants were willing to sell supplies to anyone who had money, including African American sharecroppers and White tenant farmers.  By the end of the 1870s, the Chinese laborers had abandoned the harsh lifestyle of plantation work, and most migrated out of the American South.  However, the Chinese merchants remained and sold supplies to local farmers and plantations workers, providing an alternative to the plantation commissaries, probably at lower prices.  Unlike the laborers, the merchants had both the capital and the English-language skills to stock a store from local suppliers.  The number of Chinese stores in late 1800s was probably small, but steadily increased in the early 1900s, as Chinese from other states discovered that running a store in the countryside was an easier way to support a family than operating a laundry in the cities.]  

F - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 197

[Page 197, George Chu-Lin’s advertisement for the Occidental Life Insurance of California 永享人夀保險公司.  George Chu-Lin was the Occidental Life Insurance agent for the Mid-South region, and one of the most respected community leaders in the local Chinese community. 

本人經理永享人夀,保險僑胞如有任何,燕琉問題可隨時向,本人垂詢或接洽本,人自必義務代爲解,答决不取分文若蒙,光顧倒履歡迎 {Representing Occidental Life Insurance, insurance for our countryman for any situation, please feel free at any time, to call for all insurance questions, it is our obligation, to answer questions without charge, all clients are welcome.}

美南三省唯一華人經紀 {Only Chinese Agent in the Tri-state Region}

趙偉康佐治美南各省代理 {Excellent Service to Every State in the South} ] 

From the 1930s until the 1970s, every small town and city in the Mid-south region was served by at least one Chinese-owned grocery.   The historic Chinese groceries were about the same size as a modern convenient store or slightly larger.  They served the same purpose as a supermarket today, and they sold a wide variety of consumer goods, including fresh vegetables, fresh meats, baked goods, canned goods, packaged food, snacks, beverages, alcohol, tobacco, and flowers. Most of the Chinese groceries were owned by a single Chinese family, who often lived behind or very close to their store.  The Chinese rarely hired employees, relying on their families to operate the stores for long hours six days at week.  However, the Chinese groceries were supplied by other businesses in the Mid-South region, so the Chinese interacted frequently with other businessmen and other leaders from the White community.  

D - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 30[Page 30, advertisement for the Pollard Appliance Company, Jackson, Mississippi.  This was one of the many local Mid-South companies that provided technical and professional services to the Delta Chinese grocers, including banks, insurance companies, real estate agencies, cash register retailers, and appliance and refrigeration retailers.]

The Tri-State Directory gives not only a comprehensive list of the Chinese American businesses in the Mid-South, but also a list of Chinese merchant organizations, Chinese Christian associations, and a brief history of Chinese settlement in the Mid-South.  The directory includes bilingual advertisements from non-Chinese wholesalers and professional services that supported the Chinese grocers, including wholesalers, dairies, bottling companies, banks, and refrigerator sales and service companies – everything needed for a businessman to operate a grocery.  The directory also includes advertisements for Chinese American businesses in the Chicago and San Francisco Chinatowns, which also supplied the Delta Chinese with Chinese groceries and supplies. 

D - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 22

[Page 22, advertisement for Barq’s Beverage Company, Greenville, Mississippi.  This was one of the many local and national companies that wholesaled goods to the Delta Chinese grocers.]  

The entries in the Tri-State Directory include not only businesses, but also many private residences. In many cases, the name of the business is listed in English, but the names of people affiliated with that business are listed in Chinese.  The entries may include a phone number and address, although some entries list only a name, a no contact information.  A few listed businesses have separate advertising in another part of the directory, though most of the advertisers are non-Chinese businesses.  

The Tri-State Directory demonstrates how large the Chinese Delta community had grown by the 1950s, how prosperous it had become, and how Chinese businesses were an economic engine for the entire region.  While Chinese groceries served both White and African American consumers, most were located in African American neighborhoods and were supplied by White-owned wholesalers.  Thus, the Chinese grocers provided a vital service to African American communities, while providing economic opportunities to White businesses, all while connecting small towns and cities in the Mid-South to Chinese businesses in other states and beyond. 

E - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 144[Page 144, advertisement for the Chong Kee Jan Company, San Francisco, California.  Chong Kee Jan still exists as of 2017, and it was one of several wholesalers in the San Francisco and Chicago Chinatowns that sold Chinese goods to the Delta Chinese grocers.]

I have been badgering the archives at Delta State University to republish the Tri-State Directory as an annotated primary source reader (it must be in the public domain by now…)  The reader should include indexes with page numbers, maps, articles describing larger Chinese communities such as Greenville and Cleveland, and two-page articles highlighting the notable entries in the directory, with historic photographs and a list of suggested readings.  Notable entries could include: 

  • [p. 9] Chinese Mission at First Baptist Church, Greenville, Mississippi (founded in 1934, the Chinese Baptist Mission at Greenville was the primary Chinese community center in the southern part of the Delta region);  
  • [p. 13, 23, 192, 195] Joe Gow Nue Co No. 1 周狗女公司Greenville, Mississippi (operated by the Joe family, it was the oldest known and longest surviving Chinese grocery in the Delta and a historic landmark in downtown Greenville, before its destruction by fire in the 1990s);  
  • [p. 18] Ming Sang CompanyGreenville, Mississippi (founded in 1934, operated by the Seu family, it was one of the last of the Chinese groceries, finally closing in 2018);  
  • [p. 34] Rosedale, Mississippi (the Lum v. Rice supreme case was fought over the segregation of Chinese children from White schools at the Rosedale School District);  
  • [p. 131] Wells Funeral Home, Old and New Chinese Cemeteries at Greenville, Mississippi (two Chinese cemeteries that were originally purchased from Wells Funeral Home and created because of segregation, but have since become a major landmark for all Delta Chinese, including the tombs of many Delta Chinese who fought in the U.S. armed forces during the Second World War);  
  • [p. 144] California, San Francisco (several wholesalers in the San Francisco and Chicago Chinatowns sold Chinese goods and groceries to the Delta Chinese groceries, demonstrating the extent that the Delta Chinese were connected to other Chinese communities in North America);  
  • [p. 162] McGehee, Arkansas (the Rohwer and Camp Jerome internment camps for Japanese Americans during the Second World War were located near the train station at McGehee;  
  • [p. 26, 192] 密省中文學校 Chinese Baptist Mission Church and School, Cleveland, Mississippi (founded in 1937 as a segregated school for Chinese children, the Chinese Baptist Mission at Cleveland evolved into a church and community center for the Chinese in the northern part of the Delta);  
  • [p. 23, 132, 197] George Chu-Lin (the insurance agent in the Mid-South region for Occidental Life Insurance of California 永享人夀保險公司, considered a respected leader in the local Chinese American community, also the father of noted journalist Sam Chu-Lin).  

A - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 8The Tri-State Directory includes a bilingual introduction on page 8.  The English-language introduction is a direct translation of the last two paragraphs of the Chinese-language introduction.  However, the first paragraph of the Chinese introduction is not translated, and it includes a brief history of the Chinese in the Mid-South region.  My translation of the introduction appears below:  

序言

{Introduction}

美南三省,是指密士失必,握近所及天尼斯三省而言,西人稱Cotton States,我華人俗棉花山,位於美國中南部,密士失必河流域之兩岸,我僑胞在此經營商業,將有百年歷史,但是因爲散居於三省百多個大小城市,詳細情形,向來沒有正確的調查,且僑胞之間,感情亦非常之隔膜,在近十年來,我僑胞人口及商號大爲增加,商業亦欣欣向營,本社同人有見及此,故特發起編彙這本美南三省華僑商業指南,希望能籍此機會,聯絡僑胞間之感情,與及發展商務。

{Three states in the American South 美南, namely Mississippi 密士失必, Arkansas 握近所, and Tennessee 天尼斯, which the Westerners 西人 call the “Cotton States,” and we Chinese 華人 commonly call “Cotton Mountain 棉花山,” [is] situated in the Mid-South region 中南部, along both sides of the Mississippi River 密士失必河, where our countrymen living abroad 僑胞 have been engaged in commerce, [and where] we will soon have one hundred years of history; but because [we] are a people scattered over three states and over a hundred large cities and small towns, and due to other circumstances, [we] have never before had a proper directory; moreover, among our countrymen, communications are likewise very haphazard; [but] in the past ten years, the population and number of businesses among our countrymen has rapidly increased, and commerce [here] has happily flourished; [therefore, because] our colleagues have seen this, [we] have initiated the compilation of this guide to the Overseas Chinese businesses in [these] three states of the American South, in the hope that [we] may record these opportunities, facilitate communication among our countrymen, and promote commercial growth.}

本刊這次,能夠出版與各位僑胞見面,全靠各埠僑胞的熱心幫忙,及中西商號之竭誠贊助,刊登廣告,本社同人謹借此編幅,向各位表示萬二分的謝忱。

{This edition, [which] is published for all of our countrymen to see, has relied entirely on [their] enthusiastic support, and on the generous support of Chinese and Western businesses, [and] on our advertisers, [to whom] our colleagues sincerely dedicate this edition, [and] to whom we express our most complete gratitude.}

本刊贈送僑胞使用,全為服務性質,不取分文,但初次編印,工作繁複,錯誤遺漏,恐怕免不了,希望各位僑胞原諒,並指正,以便在下次刊出時更正。

{This edition is presented as a gift for the use of our countrymen, and to support this service, [we] take no money, but as our first publication, and [due to] the difficulties of [this] work, [please] overlook [any] errors, [which we] fear are unavoidable, and [we] hope our countrymen may excuse, and point out, so that corrections may be made in the next edition.}

美南華僑商業指南服務社啟

(民國四十一年編印第一期)

{An announcement from the American South Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory Service Bureau (First edition published in the Forty-first year of the Republic [1952])}

ANNOUNCEMENT

We wish to express our sincere thanks to our Countrymen and to our advertisers for their fine cooperation which helped to make the publication of this Directory possible.

This Directory is distributed free to all people of Chinese ancestry in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. If there is any change or omission in the listings, kindly inform us and we will be glad to have it corrected in the next issue.

TRI-STATE CHINESE COMMERCIAL DIRECTORY SERVICE BUREAU


F - 美南三省華僑商業指南 Tri-State Chinese Directory (1952) - 191[Page 191, a list of the Chinese Baptist mission schools and the Delta Chinese merchant organizations that existed in 1952.]  

Sources.

Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory 美南三省華僑商業指南.  1952.  Accessed from the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/Tri-stateChineseDirectoryOfMississippiArkansasAndTennessee/page/n1);  also accessed from the Issuu website (https://issuu.com/tibfibphoto/docs/tri-state_chinese_directory). 

Index to the Tri-State Chinese Commercial Directory 美南三省華僑商業指南目錄.  2019.  Accessed from Academia.edu (https://www.academia.edu/40483592/).  

Handbook of Chinese in America 美國華僑年間.  1946.  Accessed from the Mississippi Delta Chinese website (http://mississippideltachinese.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=10895966).  [This is a national Chinese-language commercial directory, but it includes the Chinese names of many Chinese American businesses in Mississippi (210 businesses) and Arkansas (98 businesses)].  

Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, Delta State University Archives.  101 Fifth Avenue, Cleveland, Mississippi  38733 (http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/libraries/university-archives-museum/ms-delta-chinese-heritage/

Oral Histories, Chinese Grocers.  Southern Foodways Alliance (2010).  Accessed from the Southern Foodways Alliance (https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/chinese-grocers-in-the-mississippi-and-arkansas-deltas/). 

Chinese Oral Histories.  Delta State University.  Accessed from Delta State University (http://www.deltastate.edu/library/departments/archives-museum/guides-to-the-collection/oral-history-collections/chinese-oral-histories/).  

Block, Melissa. “The Legacy Of The Mississippi Delta Chinese.”  NPR (2017 Mar. 18).  Accessed from NPR (https://www.npr.org/2017/03/18/519017287/the-legacy-of-the-mississippi-delta-chinese).

Gong, Gwendolyn.  The Mississippi Chinese of World War II:  A Delta Tribute.  Cleveland, Mississippi: Delta State University, 2015.

Loewen, James W.  The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Jung, John.  Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton:  Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers.  Yin & Yang Press, 2011.

Quan, Robert Seto. 1982. Lotus Among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 

Shepherd, Ted.  The Chinese of Greenville Mississippi:  Success and Opportunity.  Greenville, Mississippi:  Burford Brothers Printing Company, 1999.

Thornell, John G.  “A Culture in Decline:  The Mississippi Delta Chinese.”  Southeast Review of Asian Studies, vol. 30 (2008):  p. 196-202.

Wilson, Charles Reagan.  “Mississippi Delta.”  Southern Spaces (2004 Apr.).  Accessed from Southern Spaces (https://southernspaces.org/2004/mississippi-delta).  

Wilson, Charles Reagan.  “Chinese in Mississippi:  An Ethnic People in a Biracial Society.”  Mississippi History Now (2018 Apr. 26).  Accessed from Southern Mississippi History Now (http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/86/mississippi-chinese-an-ethnic-people-in-a-biracial-society).  

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