Tribute to Philip Choy

phil_choy_tributePhilip Choy, architect, educator and activist, passed away at 91 on March 16, 2017. He was a stalwart in the social justice movement, and a leading advocate for the recognition of the role the Chinese had played in shaping the United States. A pioneering teacher and scholar, he co-taught with Him Mark Lai the first Chinese American history class in the nation at San Francisco State University.


In 1969, as president of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA), Choy joined others at the 100th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony commemorating the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The CHSA had prepared two commemorative plaques in English and Chinese to be placed in Sacramento and at the site of the Golden Spike ceremony to honor the Chinese, who constituted as much as 90 percent of the workforce of the Central Pacific Railroad.


At the ceremony, they heard Secretary of Transportation John Volpe declaim: “Who else but Americans could drill ten tunnels in mountains 30 feet deep in snow? Who else but Americans could chisel through miles of solid granite? Who else but Americans could have laid ten miles of track in 12 hours?”


Choy, Thomas Chinn, Connie Young Yu, and the members and officers of the CHSA, sat shocked and outraged. It was Chinese workers—men who were barred from becoming “Americans” at the time—who had actually done the drilling, chiseling and track laying across the Sierra Nevada of California and the deserts of Nevada and Utah. Yet Secretary Volpe, the official speaker of the day, had failed to even mention them. The deliberate snub was one more spark fueling the nascent Asian American movement.


Philip Choy speaking to Chinese Railroad Workers Archaeology Workshop in 2013

Philip Choy speaking at the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project Archaeology Workshop at Stanford, October 10-12, 2013


Philip Choy was a participant in the founding workshop/conference of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford, and gave presentations at the Project’s first workshop of its archaeologists network. He will be greatly missed—and he will be remembered and honored at the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike in 2019.


Below is a link to his obituary in The San Francisco Chronicle: