Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rev. Wai Shing Kwok and the Locke United Christian Center

My maternal grandfather's history has been documented in a previous post.  Rev. Wai Shing Kwok was the pastor at the Chinese Christian Church in Sacramento and head teacher at the Kwai Wah Chinese language school after emigrating to the USA with his wife and son in 1920.  In the  late 1920's through the 1930's  and until the early 1940's he was also a visiting minister at the United Christian Center in  the town of Locke in the Delta south of Sacramento.  During this time the Locke Christian Center did not have a regular minister of Chinese descent and my grandfather often travelled to Locke to officiate at marriages at the Locke Christian Center as well as perform other pastoral services at the request of the Locke center.

Here is a favorite picture of mine of my grandfather Kwok and I after he retired from his ministry.

The history of Locke and of it's Christian center is fascinating .  The town  has been preserved as a historic landmark as has it's buildings including the building housing the Locke Christian center and is well worth a visit .

Here is a brief history of the town from the Locke Town website  :

"Locke was founded in 1915 after a fire broke out in the Chinese section of nearby Walnut Grove. The Chinese who lived in that area decided that it was time to establish a town of their own. A committee of Chinese merchants, led by Lee Bing, Chan Hing Sai, Tom Wai, Chan Dai Kee, Ng So Hat, Chan Wai Lum, Chow Hou Bun, and Suen Dat Suin was formed. They approached land owner George Locke and inquired if they could build on his land. An agreement was reached. The town was laid out by Chinese architects and industrious building ensued. The founding of Lockeport, later 'Locke', was a reality. By 1920 Locke stood essentially as you see it now. Levee construction originally brought the Chinese to this area, but by the time Locke was built most of the work was in farm labor. Locke had many businesses that catered to the farm workers and residents of this region. In the 1940's restaurants, bakeries, herb shops, fish markets, gambling halls, boarding houses, brothels, grocery stores, a school, clothing stores, and the Star Theatre lined the bustling streets of Locke. At its peak 600 residents, and as many as 1500 people occupied the town of Locke. On August 2, 1970, Locke was added to the registry of national historical places, by the Sacramento County Historical Society, because of its unique status as the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese.Locke is no tourist trap, nor is it a ghost town. Its unusual, out-of-the-way charm is genuine. Perhaps it is this authenticity, without any hypocritical overtones, which brings so many out of town visitors to its doors. "

 My grandfather and grandmother were from the Heungshan ( later known as Chungsan and then Zhongshan) district in China as were most of the inhabitants of Locke. "Locke was built by a "secessionist" group of immigrants from Zhongshan district in Guandong province, who had originally settled in the Chinatown of Walnut Grove... The other Chinese residents in Walnut Grove came from the neighboring region of Sze Yup " the Four Districts.. When the Walnut Grove Chinatown burned down in 1915, several Zhongshan merchants decided not to join the Sze Yup residents to rebuild it.  Their decision reflected age-old social cleavages brought over from their homeland.
Although Zhongshan and Sze Yup are situated relatively close by, dialects in China are so finely differentiated that people living in adjoining districts who spoke slightly different dialects looked upon their neighbors as virtual foreigneers. Chinese immigrants often accentuated such dis-similarties in overseas settlements by sticking to their own dialect group through memebership in the same district and or clan associations, and by following the same occupations. Zhongshan emigrants to the United States specialized in fruit growing and congregated along the natural levees of the northern Sacramento Delta; Sze Yup peopole tended to go into potato cultivation in the back swamps further south." Suchang Chang Ph.D., "The Significance of Locke in Chinese American History", in "Remembering 100 years 1915 -2015, Locke Centenial Book.

 The Locke Unit of the United Christian Center  was established in 1920 by Dr . Charles Shepherd who had been a baptist missionary in Canton China.
Here is some information about the Christian center movement taken from the United Christian Center web site :

" The Christian Center movement, of which we are a direct descendant of, had it’s beginning over 100 years ago, when various church related centers came into existence to meet some human needs. The early Baptist Christian Centers had their inception in the efforts of the American Baptists to minister to the waves of immigrants just prior to, and following, the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. This work was known as Christian Americanization and was carried on in bi-lingual churches. As the workers became more aware of the many needs of the new comers, the programs expanded, and many of these churches became known as Christian Centers and some still exist in the Christian Center program. (United Christian Centers has continued this tradition to this day, assisting specifically with the resettlement of Hispanic and Slavic immigrants that were arriving in West Sacramento and the Sacramento area in general.) A decision was made in 1918 that they be planned along the line of social settlement houses such as Chicago’s famous Hull House.

The first two Baptist Settlement centers were founded in 1919 in Hammond Indiana. Over the ensuing 50 years many different types of center programs developed, but all represented the same Christian Center philosophy of acceptance of people on the level which they live and approaching individuals and families through meeting their felt needs, and then moving to their deeper needs. This philosophy led the centers to the use of group work methods, extended weekday activities, and became involved in community organization with a focus on community growth and development. The United Christian Centers of Greater Sacramento in it’s current corporate form, was formed in 1958 after a merger of three separate Centers operating in the Sacramento area. The oldest of these centers was the Chinese Christian Center in Locke California. The Locke Christian Center was organized in 1920 under the leadership of Dr. Charles Shepherd to serve the Chinese Community. This Center continued operation until 1966."
Here is a picture of  a teacher and students at the Locke Christian center.

 This history of the Locke Christian Center is from  the following PDF document
Historic American Buildings Survey Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service Department of the Interior Washington, D.C. 20243

"On the east side of Key Street stands the original Chinese Baptist Center, established in 1919 by the Reverend Charles R. Shepherd, a former Baptist missionary to China. Shepherd had worked for the Baptist Foreign Missions in Canton where he was a professor of Church History at Canton Baptist College, and an English teacher at the Canton Baptist Boy's Academy. At the time he was asked to visit Chinatowns in the Delta, Shepherd was director of Chinese Missions of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, based in SanFrancisco. His and other Christian missionaries' motivating objective in working with Chinese people was to bring them out of ignorant "paganism." By the early 1890s eleven Christian denominations were involved in converting the Chinese in America. The initial result of Shepherd's efforts in Locke in 1919 was the founding of the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society.
 The first religious services for adults and classes for children were conducted in a laundry. In a few years, efforts to raise money for a mission building began. Ironically, the "bulk of the funds were solicited from Main Street gambling house owners. By 1922 the Locke Christian Center on Key Street was completed and occupied for Sunday services.

Sunday school classes and weekly clubs were attended predominately by young girls who were instructed in music, sewing and cleanliness.

 In the summers, a joint program with Walnut Grove's Japanese Methodist mission was created. The Reverend Shepherd wrote that during the first summer
"50 (were) enrolled, 23 boys and 27 girls, and an average attendance of 38; 182 articles were made, and the little folks did splendidly in the Bible and song work The collection amounted to $ll. The girls made sewing-baskets, jointed paper dolls, rag dolls, aprons, wallpaper beads, purses, etc. The boys made small tables, broom holders, wagons, toy animals, flower stands."
The impact of the mission upon Locke1 s Chinese community was never as great as Shepherd had originally hoped. The Baptist mission saw its plight in terms of an uphill battle that could only be successful with the leadership of a Chinese pastor. The Baptist mission1 s inability to retain a Chinese pastor in Locke resulted in minimal support among the local people.
(note :In the 1940's Rev. Edward S. Yook did serve as a resident pastor .  I am not sure how long he was retained as pastor. He is pictured below with his wife and three of his children in front of the Locke Christian Center)

 General lack of interest in the mission and the declining population in the Chinese community contributed to the mission's slow decline. In 1934 thirty-five boys participated in mission activities. By 1965 the school had been closed, and the building was given to Walnut Grove Church. "

Pictures above were obtained from :
Library of Congress 
and a wonderful  new book in the Images of America  Series
Locke  and the Sacramento Delta Chinatowns  by  Lawrence Tom , Brian Tom and the Chinese American Museum of Northern California

Edited 5/24/2014
Current picture of the Locke Christian Center Building which has been nicely painted and restored as an artist's workshop ....

Locke has a nice memorial park honoring Chinese pioneers in the Delta ...

There is a memorial pillar that honors these early Chinese settlers.....

Families and others can buy memorial tiles for the walls around the park to honor relatives who lived and worked in Locke or in the surrounding communities .  Our family installed a tile honoring my maternal grandfather who served as a visiting pastor at the Locke Chrisitian Center.