National Archives News

After Atlanta Shooting, Author Revisits Killing of Vincent Chin

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

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Paula Yoo displays her new book on the killing of Vincent Chin during an online National Archives event on April 20, 2021.

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2021 — Watching the news in March, when a man fatally shot eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian American, felt unwelcomingly familiar to journalist Paula Yoo.

The grieving family members and friends. The targeted violence. She knew what this looked and sounded like. 

“I flashed back to when I interviewed Vincent Chin's family, friends, and members of the American Citizens for Justice, and those involved in the actual court case,” the author recalled in an April 20 National Archives online event.  

Yoo’s newly released account, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement, revisits Chin’s 1982 death and the ensuing legal battles. She relied in part on records from the National Archives at Chicago for her research. 

On a summer night in Detroit, Chin was celebrating his upcoming wedding with friends at a nightclub. An encounter with Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz turned into a fight. The two white men beat Chin to death. 

The killing happened, explained Yoo, during the height of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian sentiment in the American auto industry due to increased competition from Japanese import cars.

That Chin’s death made front-page news shocked Asian Americans, unused to seeing their community covered by major news outlets. By revisiting the killing and its aftermath, Yoo hoped to fill in wide gaps she saw as a child growing up in the U.S. school system. 

“I don't want children and teenagers to grow up like me, where much of our history is erased, because our voices, our stories, our history, and our contributions to this country matter,” Yoo said. “I write about our stories so history can stop repeating itself.”

Watch the full event with the author, including an introduction by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, on the National Archives YouTube channel.