Doing laundry is a chore, and something no one looked forward to doing. Before Chinese came to enter the laundry business, domestic servants, typically poor immigrants, or in the South, black washerwomen were the ones who did the laundry. In the late 1800s there were a few reported ‘clashes’ between Chinese and blacks over the threat of competition. In actuality, Chinese did laundry for working men whereas black washerwomen were doing family clothing and household linens so the conflict was short-lived. The bigger threat to black washerwomen was white steam laundries, which often raised fears that having laundry done by black, as well as Chinese, was a health risk.
A dance performance that recognizes the lives of black washerwomen, The Clothesline Muse, is being planned for next year by jazz singer, Nneena Frelon, with a documentary produced by Lana Garland. To gain perspective on the role of laundry work of Chinese, I was interviewed in my home recently by them: Getting ‘Shot’ In My Home.