Asian American Labor Stories: Ah Quon Mcgrath, Larry Itliong, and Chinese Railroad Workers



  • Describe the achievements of Asian Americans, individually and collectively, to advance the cause of workers’ rights which also strengthened the American labor movement.
  • Describe the backstory for each of the people or groups and explain how they became activists for the cause of workers’ rights.
  • Assess the outcome of these individuals and groups in transforming how workers are seen in the history of the labor movement.


It is fair to say that labor history in the K-12 curriculum is a theme that is underplayed, particularly when it comes to the role that minorities have played in advancing the working conditions of laborers: hours, pay, safety, health benefits, pensions, and more. In the telling of the stories of American workers, scant attention is paid to the advances brought by Asian Americans. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce three examples that illustrate the determination, courage, and ingenuity all of them brought to their work that made lives better for all Americans.

The basic “backstory” to each case study, given below, should be the takeaways for students from the lesson.


  1. What are some of the underlying conditions that prompt labor activists to seek change and reform in how workers are treated in American history?
  2. Why are some important figures not given their due for their contributions to the labor movement in American history?


  • Lesson Background
  • 3 activities
  • Assessment activity
  • Resources

Lesson plan created in partnership with 1882 Foundation