Chinese American Memorial at the Congressional Cemetery
Since 1807, the Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, in Southeast D.C. near the Anacostia River, has been a final resting place for military generals, public officials, Native American dignitaries, soldiers from both the North and South, and people of all professions, social positions and ages. It was registered as a National Historical Landmark in 2011. Many educational, commemorative, and community events are carried out there throughout the year. However, few people know about Range 99. Nearly 100 Chinese were interred there between 1896 and 1938. They were among the first migrants from China to D.C. and their remains were later exhumed according to Chinese traditions and shipped back to China for reburial where families could provide essential ancestral rites.
Today, there are no longer any Chinese remains at the site. Range 99 is empty. There is not even a remnant of a gravestone there, but the range is surrounded by stones and memorials dating from the earliest time of our nation, each with its own story of lives that have contributed to the larger American narrative. The contrasting emptiness of Range 99 is notable. It is as if the Chinese were never there, as if their stories did not matter in the over 200 years of our nation’s history represented at the Cemetery.
The 1882 Foundation with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association installed two benches and a small plaque at the site in 2015. We wanted to mark a place for historical remembrance and provide a resting place for visitors and heirs of Chinese immigrants. Unfortunately, the wall which marked the cemetery boundary behind the benches collapsed. Its repair required removing the grand shade tree that had made the original sitting area welcoming and comfortable. The benches were damaged further by weather and exposure.
We now plan to replace the benches and add a brick patio. We want to plant new trees to restore the natural canopy that had made it a comfortable storytelling place. The commemorative plaque will be reinstalled with additional interpretive signage to memorialize further the Chinese American historical experience.