Before The Colors Fade: The Return Of The Exiles

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Even a liberal newspaper like the Sacramento Bee was involved. All during the war I remember really shocking advertisements appearing in the Ber . Some outfit that called itself the Home Front Commandoes was oSering to pay “volunteers” to work on their “Deport the Jap” campaigns.

It wasn’t just the lunatic fringe, cither. I was no longer in the senate by this time, but I remember being told that a Presbyterian minister had testified that after prayer and fasting he’d concluded it was our Christian duty to keep the Japanese out of the Western world. He was for deporting them right off the continent!

Of course, we were at war with Japan all this time. People were losing sons and husbands in those battles in the Pacific. That tended to delay our sobering up from this racist binge.

Were we still at war with Japan when the Exclusion Order was revoked?

Yes indeed. Recall the order of events here. Pearl Harbor was December 7, 1941. The evacuation began in April, 1942. By the time I became attorney general in 1943, the Japanese were gone. Ex parte Endo —the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened up the concentration camp gates—was December 18, 1944. The first returnees must have hit California in late January, 1945. We were still fighting for Iwo Jima and Okinawa in February and March. Roosevelt died in April. V-E Day was May 7, 1945. We dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, and Japan surrendered on the fourteenth. By that time we only had a few thousands of our returnees. They were still coming in as late as December.

When did you first hear about the return?

Just a few days before Endo was handed down. I was in Washington, and a high official in the Department of the Interior called to tip me off. The War Relocation Authority, which had the unpleasant job of running the camps in which the Japanese were held, was part of Interior. So I got a little advance warning—about a week as I recall—to begin making preparations for the orderly reception of these people. Warren, as governor, was tipped off too. But as the chief law enforcement officer of the state, it was mainly my concern.

Was there an obvious possibility of trouble?

I think so. Not all the people we’d sent out of California would be coming back. Some had left the camps and settled in less hostile parts of the country. The Midwest, the East. Particularly the professionals—doctors, lawyers. Some had gone into the armed services. Some had decided to renounce their citizenship and go to Japan, when that became possible.

But the chances were that something close to 50,000 people who had been stripped of virtually all their possessions and locked up for two years were going to be turning up before long. Sure there were going to be problems.

Were you expecting them all to turn up at once?

No. There were complicated procedures involved—processing, transportation. Of course, they were all free to return from the day of Endo, or whenever it was the Army revoked its Exclusion Order. But I think if we had expected them all back at once—the way they were sent away—we would have been even more alarmed.

How did you go about making preparations for their “peaceful and orderly return”?

Well, I came back to Sacramento and talked it over with Governor Warren. The one experience we had already had with race riots during my regime as attorney general had been in Los Angeles—what we euphemistically called a “civil disturbance”—in the late summer of 1943. Mexican-American young men, called variously “pachucos” or “zoot-suiters,” were picked on by mobs led primarily by servicemen from the Navy or Fort MacArthur. I think the original fight was over the available young ladies of the neighborhood, but “zootsuiters” were something like the hippies of today. They wore strangely cut clothes and they had kind of ducktailed hair-dos, and this, as you know, seems to enrage some people. At any rate, it enraged the young servicemen and some local patriots. It was really terrible. The kids were chased—I remember one Mexican boy was chased right onto the stage of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and his clothes were ripped from him, There were thirty-five people killed in those riots! At the time, I was in San Francisco; I went immediately to Sacramento and talked with Governor Warren. He shared my alarm. I came down to Los Angeles and talked to the newspapers. We were able to persuade them to stop printing provocative stories about the riots, and the Army and Navy co-operated by declaring Los Angeles off-limits for servicemen. Within two or three days the trouble was over.