There is a rumour on the Chinese internet that during one of the anti-Chinese riots in the 1860s, Norton stood in front of the Chinese migrants, and, facing the rabid racist mobs, kneeled down and recited bible verses. This caused the mobs to walk away in shame and thus the Chinese migrants are saved.

Sources (Chinese):

However, there are no English sources talking about this issue when I search "Did Norton kneel before racist mobs". So is this story true? Or a fake one?

  • 8
    Just to point out what is hopefully obvious, but not evident from the titles of the linked articles, there was never any "Emperor of the United States," despite Mr. Norton's fanciful claims to the contrary.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 16:42
  • @reirab, so he was never Emperor but could he have been a Commander?
    – osiris
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 21:41
  • 20
    I wonder if it would be a good idea to edit the title to reflect the fact that the allegation is that Emperor Norton knelt down in defiance of the racist mob. When I saw the title, I thought the allegation was that he had knelt down as a show of respect to the racist mob, which, needless to say, is a very different notion. Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 3:45
  • Agreed; done. (padding goes here) Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 13:18
  • 1
    @RedGrittyBrick I think it was a joke reference to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norton_Commander - just commenting to stop it going further.
    – user133831
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


The answer to this and other Norton-related questions can be found at The Emperor Norton Trust.

First, the story of the prayer comes from a 1939 book by a man named Ryder. The Trust believes that the 1939 book may be exaggerating an incident reported in period newspapers.

[W]e believe we have found the first document that stands to lift key elements of the Lord’s Prayer story out of the realm of legend and into the realm of history. We are pleased to share it below.

If, as seems likely, an incident reported in the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday 30 April 1878 is the basis for Ryder’s romanticized account, then what actually happened is both less and — in certain respects — more heroic than has been understood.

The newspaper reports on an anti-Chinese meeting which Norton interrupted. It reports:

The fun commenced by Emperor Norton I mounting a bench and by virtue of his sovereign authority commanding the dispersion of the assemblage. He was ordered by [General] Kearney[, the leader of the group] to step down, but declined to do so, denying the authority of the General to direct his movements. The authority of the General, being sustained by the assemblage, the Emperor subsided.

Kearney did not riot that day, but as the Trust points out in their article, Emperor Norton did directly confront the anti-Chinese assembly and told them that Kearney was illegitimate and that they should cease the meeting and return to their homes.

This shows that Emperor Norton did, apparently, attack racists to their face. It is possible that the prayer incident also happened and was not reported at the time, although this seems unlikely because Emperor Norton stories sold papers.

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