Before The Colors Fade: The Return Of The Exiles

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But we’d had a good scare, and I was able to get the state to subsidize a report on the nature of race riots and how to avoid having them. That report was very useful to us when we had the problem of the returning Japanese because the basic assumptions in it were the foundation of what I used to call our prophylactic approach to law enforcement.

Actually we had first used this approach in another connection. When we passed a law outlawing slot machines, there were a number of sheriffs who just couldn’t seem to address themselves to it. So we’d call and say, “We hear you’re having trouble. If you would like us to come down and help you get rid of the gamblers and the slot machines, we’ll be glad to. Just let us know.” This “we-boys” technique put me on the side of the sheriff instead of against him, and it worked verv well.

Basically, the assumption now—in 1943—was that the police could prevent a race riot, and that it was to their advantage to do so. The most important means for doing this was taking an unequivocal stand against this sort of lawlessness when it began. We had a long check list of steps that could be taken in any local police department—ways to pick up warning signals well ahead of time, ways to build better relationships between minority groups and the police, how to stop the circulation of rumors, reduce other kinds of tension. But the big push, of course, was for education—a training course for peace officers in the problems of minority group relations. It was part of the final report—the little blue book, as we called it.

We got copies of the blue book into the hands of every peace officer in the state. Actually it was circulated all over the country. They were having race riots in Harlem and Detroit and many other places in 1943, and there was lots of interest in our material.

One of the first things we did, now that we knew the Japanese were coming back, was to get out an updated edition of the blue book and see that it got around, to ease the path of the returning Japanese and to curb the professional patriots.

What were the professional patriots doing?

All sorts of weird and shocking things. You may recall that up in Hood River, Oregon, the American Legion post had voted to remove the names of Nisei servicemen from its honor roll. Well, the city fathers in Gardena, California, did the same thing.

And there were more serious things—vandalism, dynamitings, fires. Oil lanterns were thrown at the windows of an old Buddhist temple in San Francisco where a group of returning Japanese were being sheltered. There was vandalism in a Japanese cemetery in Saunas. They were announcing up in Placer County that there would be no relief for indigent Japanese. And there were scare shootings. I remember seeing Nisei homes where bullets had gone right through the thin walls and passed within inches of sleeping children. One of the worst was an incident in Placer County, where it was perfectly well known who had shot up the house of a recently returned couple, but the local jury simply tapped them on the wrist and the judge suspended sentence.

Then there was that really dreadful incident in a little town called Loomis. A family of Japanese returned, mother, father, and three daughters, and found their home burned to the ground. That time the vigilantes overreached themselves. The War Relocation people let it be known that this family had four sons in the armed services, one of them already dead overseas, and three of the four decorated for bravery. The town conscience was touched. Money was collected, and I believe one of the churches undertook to see to it that a new house was built.

But there’s no question that there was a real attempt, with organizational backing, to drive these people out of California. The motives were interesting. We conducted quite an investigation around Fresno, where there was a great deal of anti-Japanese sentiment, and we found that much of it was generated by a village banker who had been a great friend of the Japanese when they were being evacuated—when there had been no time to make arrangements. What happened in this little town must have been fairly typical. Our friendly banker said, “I’ll take care of your property for you while you’re gone.” But now the Japanese, whom he had probably never expected to see again, were returning, and they would be asking for an accounting. We had pretty good evidence against this “worthy steward”; unfortunately, before we could proceed he had a heart attack and died. If we had been able to develop it, it might have gone a long way to explain the economic motives of patriotism in that corner of California.

Did your “we-boys” approach get co-operation from most of the sheriffs?