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The Stolen Years: Part Two Print
Written by Tom Griffin   
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The Stolen Years: Part Two
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On May 10, the army issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 57. All persons of Japanese ancestry “both alien and non-alien” had to leave Seattle by noon on May 16. Families were ordered to register with the authorities over the next two days.

The UW refunded registration fees under the same policy it used when a student was drafted. And students were encouraged to make arrangements with their instructors to complete their interrupted studies through correspondence courses.

Sociology Professor Frank Miyamoto was still teaching his Introduction to Sociology course when the orders came. “I honestly don’t recall who took over,” he says.

Suppressing his anger and shock over the internments, Miyamoto tried to look at it as a grand sociological experiment. “I was giving it a lot of attention. This is a sociological event. How is this minority group going to react?” he wondered.

He wasn’t alone in his interest. A University of California sociologist, Dorothy Swaine Thomas, organized a research initiative that would study the effects of this compulsory “migration.” She asked Miyamoto to be a research assistant. So he joined the others in the transfer to Puyallup. Each “evacuee” was allowed two bags for all personal possessions. Miyamoto had to leave his books behind, but he was able to take his typewriter.

Kenji Okuda
Kenji Okuda
Sueko Sumioka was still working as a school girl until the day of the transfers. Rather than let her ride the buses, her employer drove her out to Puyallup. “She was very sympathetic. She thought it was a big mistake,” Sumioka recalls.

Toru Sakahara tried to tie up the financial side of his father’s farm before he left for the camps. He also married his college sweetheart, a common tactic for young Nisei worried about being separated. He took his mother, new wife and four siblings with him to the fairgrounds, wondering if he would ever be able to complete his law degree.

Seattle was emptied of its Japanese Americans—except for one. Hirabayashi stayed behind in Eagleson Hall, but only for a day. If he was found there, the YMCA might be accused of harboring a fugitive in wartime. So he and attorney Art Barnett decided to visit the FBI on the 16th. It was time to turn himself in.

When he reported to the agents, he was in for a surprise. “We have been expecting you,” one told him. Taken aback, Hirabayashi said he had a statement to present to them. “Oh, we already have a copy,” came the reply. (Though it was never confirmed, Hirabayashi suspects that one of the YMCA board members leaked the statement to the FBI.)

The statement laid down Hirabayashi’s reasoning. “I consider it my duty to maintain the democratic standards for which this nation lives. Therefore, I must refuse this order for evacuation,” he wrote, adding that he appreciated the “sympathetic and honest efforts” of military personnel carrying out the order. He also refused to condemn Japanese Americans who obeyed the edict. “They have faced tragedy admirably,” he wrote.

As he stood before the FBI officer, Hirabayashi was sure that he was not alone. He pictured 100 to 200 other resisters standing in other offices across the West Coast. “I’d be one of a mass case,” he thought. But of the 120,000 Japanese American sent to “assembly centers” in the spring of 1942, only a handful resisted at that time. Hirabayashi would face the government alone in the first case challenging the legality of the internments.

That night—and for the next nine months—Hirabayashi was in the federal holding tank at the King County Jail. But this was not the Count of Monte Cristo experience his mother feared. Some of the lawbreakers tried to take care of him. “They gave me things to eat they had been saving for themselves. … One of the fellows offered me an extra blanket, claiming he didn’t need it.” In time he was elected “mayor,” arbitrating disputes between the inmates and negotiating with the jailers.

Supporters poured in on visiting day. One of the jailers complained that he had never seen a prisoner with so many visitors. Even old college friends now in the military would show up—in uniform. Perhaps what touched Hirabayashi the most was a letter to his defense committee from a soldier fighting in the South Pacific. A stranger to Hirabayashi, he had visited the prisoner while in transit to the war zone. From somewhere in the Pacific, he sent a check and a note that read, “I’m out here fighting and that’s one of the things I’m fighting for.”

Word of Hirabayashi’s resistance spread throughout the camps. “I though Gordon was very brave,” says Sumioka. “Today I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak out and say no.”

The authorities said Hirabayashi could get out on bail, but there was a catch. Once released, he would immediately be taken to the “assembly center” in Puyallup. Since the whole point was to protest the internments, Hirabayashi wouldn’t compromise. He refused bail, which meant staying in a short-term jail without an exercise yard, shops, a library or other facilities found in prisons. He held up well, but the confinement would later prompt him to beg for work outside on a road gang. That request set in motion a legal mistake that would be seized by the Supreme Court when it heard his case.

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