I made a sobering personal discovery about the Chinese laundrymen who were in my hometown of Macon long before I was born. Scott Seligman’s detailed book about three Moy brothers, Three Tough Chinamen, briefly mentioned that a cousin of Chicago’s wealthy Sam Moy, Moy Tung Hi,was murdered at his laundry in Macon in 1895. That discovery prompted me to do some research which led to even more startling findings. I discovered from other newspaper articles that Moy Tung Hi was murdered at 519 Mulberry Street at the Sam Lee Laundry, the very same one that my father and mother acquired around 1937 and where I grew up and helped my parents work!
Below is a comparison of how the scene of the crime appeared in 1906 (near right side) and in 1950 (next to the Lanier Hotel)
Here are the details:
On the night on Feb. 13, 1895, a Chinese laundryman named Moy Tung Hi was shot and killed by a single gunman at the front door of the Sam Lee Laundry in the middle of one of the main streets of Macon, Georgia. A witness heard the assassin and the Chinaman arguing in the laundry just before the murder. He saw the killer calmly leave the scene on foot. A policeman at one end of the block and two others that were near the other end of the street heard gunshots. They quickly converged at the laundry but the lone gunman escaped. In an account in the Chicago Tribune, a policeman said he was “unable to say whether the fleeing assassin was a white man, Chinaman, or negro.”
The news article reported that Moy had moved to Macon about a year ago, but there is evidence from an 1885 article that he was already at the Sam Lee Laundry a decade earlier . In any case, around 1894 apparently Moy owned a store in Chicago but fled town due to death threats. Moy was a member of the Chinese Free Masons that was involved in gambling. The rival anti-gambling group consisting of highbinders had targeted Moy in retaliation for his opposition to their actions. Consistent with this view was the fact that some of Macon’s handful of Chinese laundrymen had noticed an unfamiliar Chinaman in town a few days before the murder and he was no longer seen after the crime. However, Chinese in Atlanta doubted it was the work of a highbinder because they maintained that a highbinder would not flee the scene after the crime. Other views about the murder were offered about the assailant. Some thought it was a jealous Negro, some thought it was a white resident, and still others thought it was a Chinese who owed gambling debts to Moy.
Moy’s cousin, Sam Moy, the wealthiest Chinese in Chicago dispatched another cousin, Moy Tung Quai to Macon to investigate and offer a $1,000 reward. The anti-gambling organization insisted it had nothing to do with the murder and that the Masons were trying to cast blame on its president, Moy Ah Kee.
The funeral was held in Atlanta on a snowy afternoon before a crowd of about 300 that included curious onlookers at the Westview Cemetery where Chinese who died in all areas in the South were buried. An Atlanta newspaper report described the unusual ceremony that began with a Christian minister presiding, complete with readings from the Bible and the singing of hymns, followed by a Chinese ceremony in which they each dropped three clods of dirt onto the casket. The grave was then filled in to the accompaniment of a background that the reporter described as the “crooning of the brethren suggestive of a rookery.” Then a ritual followed with incense burning and sprinkling of chicken gizzards over the resting place. Some one else tossed down “a chop stick, followed by a huge piece of pork, several chickens, a carrot and a quantity of dry rice…. A wash basin__with a large towel folded over, was placed as the finishing touches to the funeral pile,”
Scott D. Seligman. (2012) Three Tough Chinamen. Hong Kong: Earnshaw Books
“Tung Hai’s Murder. Chicago Chinamen Are Interested and Want the Murderer Captured. They Decide to Offer A Reward. Some of Them Suspect the Highbinders of Committing It. A Bitter Feud Exists Among Them The Masons Outnumber the Highbinders Ten to One—The Wealthiest Chinaman in Chicago the Dead Man’s Cousin.” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 17, 1895.
“Hung Ti to Earth. The Body of the Murdered Celestial Laid to Rest in Westview. Religious Ceremonies At The Grave. Chicken Gizzards Were Plentiful and a Wash Basic Placed There, Too. Quai Tung, From Chicago, Present. Nearly $2,00 0Has Been Offered As a Reward, and It Remains for the Macon Officers to Nose the Track,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 18, 1895.
“Say It Is A Trap for Moy Ah Kee. Chicago Chinaman Charged with Complicity in a Murder in Macon, Ga.” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 19, 1895.