Vincent Chin

Black and white image of Asian man smiling at the camera. They are wearing a dark V-neck shirt.
Portrait of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man murdered in 1982.

Detroit News Photograph Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Quick Facts
Chinese American draftsman, victim of an anti-Asian hate crime, death inspired a Pan-Asian movement in Detroit
Place of Birth:
Guangdong Province, mainland China
Date of Birth:
May 18, 1955
Place of Death:
Detroit, Michigan
Date of Death:
June 23, 1982
Place of Burial:
Detroit, Michigan
Cemetery Name:
Forest Lawn Cemetery

Vincent Chin was a Chinese American draftsman who lived in Detroit, Michigan during the deindustrialization of the Midwest. On June 19, 1982, Chin was the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime. White autoworkers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz fatally beat him with a baseball bat. Vincent Chin’s life and the legal struggle for justice that followed his murder inspired the development Pan-Asian American community organizing in Detroit. 

What are some actions you can take when encountering injustice? 

The Life of Vincent Chin 

Vincent Jen Chin was born on May 18, 1955 in Guangdong province in mainland China. He lived in an orphanage for the first few years of his life. He was adopted in 1961 by Bing Hing “David” Chin (C.W. Hing) and Lily Chin, a Chinese American couple living in Michigan. C.W. Hing was originally from Guangdong and served in the US Army during World War II. After the war, his wife immigrated from China to the United States through the 1945 War Brides Act. [1] The couple worked in Chinese laundromats in Detroit, spending long hours each day sorting and washing soiled clothes, and ironing and wrapping garments.  

Chin and his family lived in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. Until 1971, they lived in Highland Park, an enclave of Detroit, and eventually moved to the suburb Oak Park. Here, Chin graduated from Oak Park High School, eventually studying at the Control Data Institute, a technical vocational school, and Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.   

An only child to older parents, Vincent Chin spent much of his adulthood caring for his family by supporting them financially. Chin worked as an industrial draftsman at Efficient Engineering, an automotive supplier in Detroit, and was a waiter at Golden Star Restaurant in Fernadale, Michigan. He also went to night school for computer operations. Chin was engaged to his fiancé and was set to be married on June 28, 1982.   

Detroit: Mecca of the Auto Industry 

Since Henry Ford invented the Model T in 1908, the city of Detroit has been known as the mecca of the automobile industry. [2] In addition to Ford, American automakers, such as Chrysler and General Motors, established plants near and around Detroit. For decades, the industry's success made Detroit a major industrial hub, generating jobs and income for the city and its residents. By 1950, Detroit’s population had surged to 2 million people, making it the fifth largest city in the US. [3] 

During the 1950s, however, things began to change. Automakers decentralized away from Detroit and opened new plants in smaller towns and states with lower wages. New Ford plants emerged 10 miles out in suburban Madison Heights and Plymouth, and as far as thirty miles northwest of Detroit in Wixom. Other plants left the state altogether to set up shop in Lima, Ohio, Buffalo, New York, and Richmond, California. In Detroit, automated machines began to replace workers on the assembly line. Although the auto industry continued to make record profits through the mid-1960s, more than 130,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared between 1948 and 1967. [4] 

By the 1970s, the international oil crisis intensified the struggles of American autoworkers. Many American-made cars had a heavy, eight-cylinder engine and used a lot of gas. Although these models were popular at mid-century, they became increasingly unprofitable. As oil and gas prices skyrocketed, American drivers looked to foreign automakers for lighter and less expensive options. Fuel-efficient models from Germany and Japan (such as the Volkswagen Beetle and Rabbit, Datsun B-210, and Toyota Corolla) were not only cheaper to buy, but also to maintain and repair.[5]

As demand for American cars plummeted, massive layoffs swept through the industrial Midwest. According to the Associated Press, almost 190,000 assembly line workers had lost their jobs at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler by the end of 1980. Based on census data, this was equivalent to over 9% of the entire labor force for the Detroit metro area and over 39% of the labor force for the central city alone. [6] As people struggled financially, their desperation turned to anger. They looked for someone to blame.  

Anti-Japanese Sentiment in Detroit 

Many American motor executives, politicians, unions, and autoworkers took out their frustration against anything and anyone they thought could be Japanese. Although German cars were just as popular and cost-effective, these groups played up the ethnic differences of Japanese and Japanese Americans. The animosity also extended to other Asian Americans who were lumped together as “perpetual foreigners.” As Chinese American activist and journalist Helen Zia explains, “racism only works when people can be portrayed as different.”[5] The scapegoating of Japanese Americans for the US’s economic turmoil was only one incident in a long pattern of anti-Asian prejudice. Other incidents included the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese incarceration during World War II, and laws that prohibited Asian Americans from mixed race marriage, property ownership, providing testimony in court, and voting.  

In 1965, changes in US immigration policy opened doors for immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Islands.[7] Asian American communities steadily grew around the country. By 1980, Asian Americans made up less than 1 percent of Detroit’s total population (1.2 million people). African Americans made up more than 60% of the city’s population, while white residents numbered over 30%. [8] 

Anti-Japanese sentiment and intimidation took many forms. The pervasive use of racialized language and offensive slurs signaled a dangerous environment for anyone who even “looked” Japanese. Politicians and broadcasts on television and radio all perpetuated the idea that buying or driving Japanese cars was “un-American.” They also invoked World War II-era rhetoric that depicted Japan as “the enemy.” Some even turned to violence. For instance, union leaders, including from the United Auto Workers, encouraged autoworkers to vandalize Japanese cars and target the people driving them.[9]  

Killing of Vincent Chin and Circumstances of His Death 

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was hosting his bachelor party at the Fancy Pants Club in Highland Park, Michigan with a few of his friends. Two white autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, entered the bar and began to target Chin because of his Asian heritage. Ebens was a foreman at the local Chrysler plant. Nitz had recently been laid off from the plant and was working at a furniture store. They called Chin racial slurs, swore at him, and accused him (and other Asian Americans) of taking jobs from white autoworkers. When Chin stood up to confront them, a fight broke out. Both groups were thrown out of the bar. 

When Ebens went to his car for a baseball bat, Chin ran. Ebens and Nitz chased him but were unable to keep up. They returned to the parking lot where Chin’s friends were still standing. They started to pursue Chin’s Chinese Canadian friend Jimmy but ignored the white members of the group. Unable to catch either Chin or his friend on foot, Ebens and Nitz continued their pursuit by car for the next half hour. A local man testified that they had offered him $20 to help “get the Chinese.” [10] 

Ebens and Nitz eventually identified Chin and his friend outside a McDonald’s on Woodward Avenue. Nitz grabbed Chin from behind so that Ebens could beat Chin’s arms, legs, and body with the baseball bat. Ebens finally delivered crushing blows to Chin’s skull. There were several witnesses to the attack, including two off-duty police officers who ordered Ebens to stop at gunpoint. 

Vincent Chin was rushed to Henry Ford Hospital. [11] Surgeons operated on his head overnight before placing him on life support. After four days, Chin’s mother and fiancée agreed to take Chin off life support. He died on June 23, 1982. He was 27. His 400 wedding guests attended his funeral. He was interred in Detroit’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. 

Local Organizing 

Chin’s murderers, Ebens and Nitz, were initially charged with second-degree murder. Although both men pled guilty to manslaughter, neither served a full day in jail. Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced them to three years probation, a $3,000 fine, and court costs. Kaufman later explained: “These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail.”[12] 

In the 1980s, the Detroit Asian American community was small and fragmented, with ethnic groups staying mostly to themselves. Many in the community held a “don’t make waves” attitude, citing fears that protest would lead to more difficulties within a tense racially divided environment. There were also few protections for any outspoken individuals or those who wished to protest, since there were no Asian American advocacy groups or watch-dog organizations in Detroit.  

However, this changed on March 18, 1983, nine months after Vincent Chin’s death. The lenient sentencing of Chin’s attackers incensed communities of Asian descent, especially Vincent Chin’s mother, Lily Chin. She appealed the decision of her son’s case to the Chinese Welfare Council of Detroit, the civic arm of the Chinatown business community. She wrote: “This injustice is a terrible extreme. My son’s blood had been shed; how injust could this be? I grieve in my heart and shed tears of blood. Yes, my son cannot be brought back – and I can only wait for death.”[13] 

On March 31, 1983, over 100 individuals and representatives of Asian organizations from the greater Detroit area gathered in the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council’s meeting hall in Detroit’s Chinatown. The audience was diverse and captured Asians from a range of age groups, political affiliations, occupations, and ethnicities. Members from twenty-some organizations signed on to build a grassroots coalition that advocated for all Americans, not just for one ethnic group. [14] This coalition was named American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), and marked the “first explicitly Asian American grassroots advocacy effort with a national scope” and expanded to include non-Asian advocates as well. [15] 

In the months that followed, ACJ gathered donations and volunteers to mobilize for justice for Vincent Chin. From gaining legal counsel to collaborating with civil rights organizations in Detroit, like the Detroit Area Black Organizations and the United Auto Workers Union Community Action program, the ACJ campaigned for Chin’s case. On May 9, 1983, the ACJ organized a large demonstration at Kennedy Square in Detroit that illustrated the broad, public outcry. 

Legal Battles 

Lily Chin and ACJ advocates visited Washington, DC to meet with the US Department of Justice Civil Rights division to discuss federal civil rights prosecution against Ebens and Nitz. The mass mobilization and the ACJ’s legal efforts led the US Department of Justice and FBI to initiate an investigation into the murder of Vincent Chin. In 1983, a federal grand jury found Ebens guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights because the attack was racially motivated. [16] He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  

Ebens appealed this verdict, claiming that he could not get a fair trial due to the publicity surrounding the case in Detroit. His lawyers filed a successful relocation motion and the appeal took place in Cincinnati in 1987. [17] Circuit Judges Engel, Kennedy, and Milburn acquitted Ebens of the civil rights violation. Their decision only further galvanized activists to expose the discrimination and racism that Asian Americans experience. 

After Ebens was acquitted, Lily Chin successfully pursued a civil lawsuit for the “value” of her son’s life. The judge ordered Ebens to pay $1.5 million and Nitz to pay $50,000 to Chin’s estate. Although Nitz completed the payment, Ebens refused. Because no payments have been made, interest has increased the amount owed. [18]  

Movement Building 

The ACJ’s grassroots organization turned into a national movement for justice for Vincent Chin. Supporters organized demonstrations and mobilizations in major American cities and new Asian American advocacy groups formed across the nation. Furthermore, the ACJ worked towards building solidarity with different racial and ethnic groups in Detroit, including prominent African American churches, Arab Americans of Michigan, women’s groups, Christian and Jewish organizations, and local political leaders. 

But coalition building across race and ethnicity was not without its challenges. In Detroit, racial biases against Japanese Americans and Asian Americans fostered resentment about Vincent Chin’s case. When ACJ representatives approached the United Auto Workers Union headquarters at Solidarity House in Detroit, they found anti-Japanese and anti-Asian stickers signs and bumper stickers that read “300,000 Laid Off Autoworkers say Park Your Import in Tokyo.”[19]  

The ACJ also encountered resistance within white, European American and even Asian American communities, especially when it came to the issue of race. Pursuing a civil rights lawsuit for a racially motivated hate crime required the ACJ to talk explicitly about race. While some Asian Americans had become outspoken advocates for pan-Asian solidarity, others were concerned about speaking out about race and racism. During the early 1980s, dialogue about race had primarily focused on a Black-white divide. Where Asian Americans fell into the discussion was unclear. 

Talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum exacerbated these concerns. White conservatives called into radio talk shows, angered by the mention of racism surrounding the legal battles. White liberals, like Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, dismissed Chin’s case altogether. He expressed that civil rights were only for African Americans and not Asians, who he thought were “white.” [20] 

Despite these challenges, the ACJ led national movement for the justice for Vincent Chin, and set the stage for pan-Asian organizing in Detroit and beyond.  

Continuing Legacy 

Although Vincent Chin’s life was cut short at age 27, he left an immense impact within Asian American communities locally and nationwide. His death and the court proceedings that followed are considered critical turning points for Asian American civil rights engagement. Within local and nationwide organizing, concerned community members and civil rights advocacy groups rallied for stronger federal hate crime legislation that protected Asian Americans. The public outcry to Vincent Chin’s murder contributed to the formation of Pan-Asian American identity and unity.  

Vincent Chin is commemorated through memorials, advocacy groups, and educational resources. In 2010, the city of Ferndale, Michigan erected a marker at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and 9 Mile Road to commemorate Vincent Chin’s killing and the struggle for justice that followed. In 2023, the Vincent Chin Institute was established with the goal of “uniting [Asian Pacific American] organizers to fight Anti-Asian Hate” due to the resurgence of anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, the Institute published the second edition of The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, authored by Helen Zia.   

Consider this: 

How can you motivate other people to join a cause you care about? 
What does it take to build a movement?  

This article was researched and written by Marjorie Justine Antonio, ACE Intern, and Jade Ryerson, NCPH Consulting Historian, with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education. 


[1] In 1945, the War Brides Act facilitated the reunification of couples and families. The Act and its amendments granted entry to the foreign-born wives and fiancées of American soldiers within a set period. Additionally, Chinese wives would not count toward the annual quota. The US received an influx of 8,000 Chinese war brides over the next four years. More information on World War II and the War Brides Act can be found here: Westminster Presbyterian Church (U.S. National Park Service) ( 

[2] Thomas J. Sugrue, “Motor City: The Story of Detroit,” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History AP US History Study Guide, accessed June 23, 2023, MotorCities National Heritage Area interprets the history of the auto industry in southeast and central Michigan. It was designated by Congress in 1998. 

[3] Thomas J. Sugrue, “Moving Out: Decentralization and the Decline of Urban Factories,” From Motor City to Motor Metropolis: How the Automobile Industry Reshaped Urban America, University of Michigan – Dearborn and Benson Ford Research Center, accessed June 23, 2023, 

[4] Jerry M. Flint, “The Energy Crisis Spurs Demand for Small Cars...and Detroit Responds—With Big-Car Prices,” New York Times, April 7, 1974,; US Environmental Protection Agency, “Gas Mileage Guide for New Car Buyers, 1975: Fuel Economy Test Results for Automobiles and Light-Duty Trucks,” 2nd ed (Washington, DC: Federal Energy Administration, 1975); Larry Kramer, “Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel Again Rated as Most Fuel Efficient,” Washington Post, September 16, 1978,  

[5] Andrew Angelo, “Auto Woes Voted Top Michigan News Story,” Lansing State Journal, December 26, 1980,; US Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Census Data: Output for Detroit City, MI,” State of the Cities Data Systems, accessed June 30, 2023,*2600022000*1.0&metro=msa.  

[6] Helen Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide: Asian Americans Building the Movement, Vincent and Lily Chin Estate, 2022, 10,

[7] Between 1924 and 1965, the US limited immigration based on country of origin to keep out certain ethnic groups, including people from Asia. The Immigration Act of 1965 sought to eliminate discrimination in US immigration policy.  

[8] U.S. Census Bureau, “General Population Characteristics: Michigan,” Chapter B in 1980 Census of Population, Vol. 1, Characteristics of Population, issued August 1982,

[9] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 10. 

[10] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 13. 

[11] Henry Ford Hospital was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 4, 2013. 

[12] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 23. 

[13]  Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 13. Lily Chin wrote the appeal, first in Chinese and then translated to English. to the Chinese Welfare Council of Detroit. 

[14]  Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 20-21. The initial coalition that signed on the March 31, 1983 meeting included Chinese American organizations from Association of Chinese Americans and the Greater Detroit Taiwanese Association, professional organizations, church and faith-based organizations, and a women’s organization. Non-Chinese organizations, such as Japanese American Citizens League, Korean Metropolitan Detroit, and the Filipino American Community Council. 

[15] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 21. 

[16] Associated Press, “Slayer is Acquitted of Civil Rights Violation,” New York Times, May 2, 1987; Associated Press, “Trial Stemmed From Fatal Beating of Asian-American: Man Acquitted of Rights Charge in Death,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1987. Theordore Levin United States Courthouse (also known as Detroit Federal Building) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
[17] Potter Stewart US Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. 

[18] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 30.

[19] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 27-28.  

[20] Zia, The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide, 27-28. 


American Citizens for Justice. “The History of ACJ – Who was Vincent Chin?” History. Accessed June 6, 2023.  

Davis, Wynne, “Vincent Chin was killed 40 years ago. Here's why his case continues to resonate.” NPR. June 19, 2022, 10:18 AM ET. 

Espiritu, Yen Le. “The Vincent Chin Case.” Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992. 

Flint, Jerry M. “The Energy Crisis Spurs Demand for Small Cars...and Detroit Responds—With Big-Car Prices.” New York Times. April 7, 1974. 

Hsu, Hua. “The Many Afterlives of Vincent Chin.” The New Yorker. June 23, 2022. 

Kramer, Larry. “Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel Again Rated as Most Fuel Efficient.” Washington Post. September 16, 1978. 

Lam, Tony, dir., and Curtis Chin, writer. Vincent Who? Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, 2009.

Lee, Erika. “The Rise of ‘Asian Americans’?: Myths and Realities.” Chap. 17 in The Making of Asian America: A History, 382-383. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015.   

Sugrue, Thomas J. “Motor City: The Story of Detroit.” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History AP US History Study Guide. Accessed June 23, 2023. 

Sugrue, Thomas J. “Moving Out: Decentralization and the Decline of Urban Factories.” From Motor City to Motor Metropolis: How the Automobile Industry Reshaped Urban America. University of Michigan – Dearborn and Benson Ford Research Center. Accessed June 23, 2023.

Tajima-Peña, Renee and Christine Choy, dirs. Who Killed Vincent Chin? PBS, 1987.   

Tseng-Putterman, Mark. “On Vincent Chin and the Kind of Men You Send to Jail.” The Margins. Asian American Writers’ Workshop. June 23, 2017.

US Environmental Protection Agency. “Gas Mileage Guide for New Car Buyers, 1975: Fuel Economy Test Results for Automobiles and Light-Duty Trucks.” 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Federal Energy Administration, 1975.  

Zia, Helen. The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide: Asian Americans Building the Movement. Vincent and Lily Chin Estate, 2022.

Zia, Helen. The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide: Asian Americans and Civil Rights. Vincent Chin Institute and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, second edition, 2023. 

Last updated: August 2, 2023