Two weeks ago, the “At the Library” column of May 29 reviewed the book “The Toledo Incident of 1925,” in which Ted Cox describes a nativist uprising in Toledo, Oregon, against Pacific Spruce Corporation for hiring Japanese workers in Oregon’s largest old-growth sawmill.
Not Oregon’s finest three days.
Japanese American workers were roughed up and then loaded, with their hastily gathered belongings, into cars and busses for Corvallis, then to a train headed for Portland, on July 12, 1925.
Who knew that 17 years and five months later - following Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor - that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942 would sign Executive Order 9066 authorizing the removal of residents of Japanese ancestry (one-sixteenth or more Japanese) from California, Oregon and Washington to remote locations further inland.
As a first step, forced from their homes on 48 hours’ notice, residents of Japanese ancestry were placed in temporary assembly centers near West Coast cities, typically fairgrounds and racetracks. In north Portland, for example, 3,676 evacuees were housed during five months in 1942 in stalls at the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Center, while more permanent War Relocation Centers were prepared for their later arrival in Idaho and California.
Similarly, 7,390 residents of Japanese ancestry stayed in horse stables at the Puyallup Assembly Center, on the Western Washington Fairgrounds south of Seattle and west of Tacoma, from April to October of 1942, awaiting transfer to War Relocation Centers in Idaho, Wyoming and California.
In total, 120,000 Japanese Americans, approximately 70,000 of whom were U.S. citizens, spent most of World War II in 10 War Relocation Centers in such extreme and remote environments as Gila River and Poston, Arizona; Jerome and Ruhwer, Arkansas; Tule Lake and Manzanar, California; Granada, Colorado; Hunt-Minidoka, Idaho; Topaz, Utah; and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
These mostly dry, dusty sites were not considered among the nation’s garden spots.
Homes and businesses were lost, careers interrupted, families separated, educations interrupted or abandoned, and connections to original communities severed.
After the shock of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the prejudice, greed and small-mindedness that drove the ejection of Japanese workers from Toledo, Oregon, also drove national policies - adopted by a liberal president and Western state governors - to isolate 70,000 Japanese-American citizens and another 50,000 American residents of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps under armed guard and control of the U.S. Army.
In “An Eye for Justice: Robert C. Sims and Minidoka,” local Idaho historian Susan M. Stacy masterfully collected and edited writings of Robert C. Sims, a professor of history at Boise State University, who concentrated much of his career there on investigating the history of the War Relocation Authority, the placement of the Minidoka Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho, and congressional recognition of the remnants of the relocation center as the Minidoka National Historic Site in 2008.
Along the way, Stacy collects writings by Sims, who passed in 2015, which describe aspects of the intersection of national and local history of the War Relocation Authority through his research on Minidoka from 1978 to 2007.
Particularly interesting is his article about the impact of Idaho Gov. Chase Clark’s rhetoric and resistance to accepting Japanese Americans, including citizens, from the West Coast states into Idaho, until pressured by the sugar beet industry and the necessity to save the sugar beet crop during a domestic labor shortage in wartime.
Sims’ articles, lectures and speeches in “An Eye for Injustice” include an analysis of Minidoka, which interned nearly 10,000 evacuees, as a source of agricultural laborers employed near the internment camp, as well as workers who would stay in farmer- or government-provided housing distant from Minidoka.
In another article, Sims focuses on the conflict between Minidoka’s value as a source of agricultural workers and its stated promise to provide adequate educational resources for children - about 40% of the evacuees at the camp. Children 14 years and older would work well into the fall; school would not start until November.
The use of secondary-school students as agricultural labor still impacts educational policy in the Pacific Northwest. Legislators discover this to their peril whenever someone proposes more efficient use of school facilities by offering year-round classes or opening schools in August.
Sims balances his descriptions of the difficulties of spending three years in the dust, mud and extreme temperatures of Minidoka’s environment with a description of how resistance to the Japanese presence eased as the evacuees added to the cultural offerings of southcentral Idaho, provided labor that rescued local farmers. and later in the war, built their reputation as effective combatants on the European Front, and essential language and intelligence specialists in the Pacific.
Finally, “An Eye for Justice” includes a short essay by my neighbor Jim Azumano about his mother Ise Inuzuka, “the Sweetheart of Minidoka,” and his father George Azumano, whom she married while on a pass to Twin Falls, Idaho.
I thank Jim for donating Robert Sims’ historical writings to the library. I will recommend it be placed in the Northwest Collection along with “The Toledo Incident of 1925.”
Meantime, Marjorie MacQueen continues to purchase new nonfiction titles for the library collection, including “Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump” by Kate Andersen Brower; “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes” by Zachary D. Carter; “How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States” by Daniel Immerwahr; “Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Trump” by Sarah Posner; and “The System: Who Rigged It, How to Fix It” by Robert B. Reich.
The library has been using the COVID-19 closure to plan its reopening for regular services when Clatsop County is approved for Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening framework.
When the library reopens, masks will be required attire for volunteers and patrons alike, patrons will be asked to use provided hand sanitizer, and the number of patrons using the library at the same time will be limited.
In addition to installing a sneeze guard at the circulation desk, the library will be rearranged for social distancing. And the office, storeroom and back hallway will be repainted.
The library’s board of directors has canceled the annual Fourth of July sale because of the plague, but the pricing committee hopes to receive enough donations to make next year’s sale the biggest ever, and to ensure that the book sale room remains freshly stocked when the library reopens.
Anyone with books to donate may leave them on the back porch, after calling the library office at 503-436-4186 so the office manager or a volunteer will know to look for them.