Presenting the Phil Choy Papers

October 11, 2021
Franz Kunst
Phil Choy by Barre Fong

Special Collections is proud to announce the availability of the Philip P. Choy Papers. Philip Choy (1926-2017) was a historian, author, teacher, and architect who devoted himself to documenting the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. His collection reflects a deep contribution to the research, preservation and education of Chinese American history. 

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 Choy was a third generation Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown. He worked in the family butcher shop as a teenager. Choy attended San Francisco City College, served in World War II, and earned a degree in architecture from University of California Berkeley. He was involved in residential and commercial design for fifty years, and as a community activist he fought for the preservation of historical landmarks, including the Angel Island Immigration Station. In 1993, he wrote the case study to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places. During the 1969 Transcontinental Railroad Centennial, Choy fought for the recognition of Chinese labor, and in 2013 he was interviewed about the experience for Stanford's Chinese Railroad Workers Oral History Project. With Him Mark Lai, Phil taught the first Chinese American history course at San Francisco State University, and after his retirement, Choy continued to be an adjunct professor in the Asian American Studies Department.

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The majority of his papers consists of historical material that Choy assembled. Most files involve Chinese immigration, labor, and settlement in the Western United States, with a special emphasis on San Francisco's Chinatown. There is also a great deal of material produced in the course of Choy's writing and other projects, especially his book on Sacramento (Canton Footprints: Sacramento's Chinese Legacy). As a collector and patron of archives, Choy brought together both primary and secondary sources, including newspaper articles, photographs, government reports, personal archives, and ephemera of all kinds. His collection also includes many photocopies and photo reproductions, often heavily annotated. There is relatively little correspondence amongst his papers, nor are there files pertaining to his work with the Chinese Historical Society (he was president five times). 

Among the many photographs in Choy's files are a series of prints and lantern slides with images from China, Japan and Korea, created or collected by Rev. Amzi C. Wright, a Methodist missionary with the Central China Mission who likely used the slides in a traveling presentation, possibly under the auspices of the Lantern Slide and Lecture Department of the Board of Foreign Missions.

Wright slide

Another important component of the collection is a group of material from Choy's uncle John Jan, a mining engineer from Sacramento who worked in industrial development in China in the 1940s. This sub-collection contains many letters and documents from his activities overseas, as well as images from 1960's & 70's peace marches and protests in San Francisco - material which might be overlooked by casual browsers.
Protest in Chinatown by John Jan
One part of Choy's collection was organized as an entirely separate entity - the Philip P. Choy collection of California and the West, which consists of photographs, publications and ephemera not directly related to the Chinese American experience. Some books from his library were also cataloged separately.
Stay tuned for further work on his collection, including digital copies of his audio interviews and perhaps even scans of some of his enormous photo library.