By SUSIE LING
California history has two faces. The racism that put Japanese Americans behind barbed wire in World War II and segregated African Americans, Jews, and Latinos for decades seems unbelievable. But the determination of people like the Carrs to do the right thing in spite of public opinion inspires faith in the American system.
In 1944, William C. Carr became the president of Friends of the American Way in Pasadena. It was an organization determined to help Japanese Americans who had unjustly been imprisoned by Executive Order 9066. There had been a significant Japanese American population in Pasadena before neighbors and friends watched the government send them to camps.
The one major group that helped Japanese Americans through those difficult years was the Quakers. But 88-year old John Carr said, “My father was not a Quaker. My mother was a Presbyterian but Dad just had a mind of his own. He was not even political.”
Many Niseis and Sanseis – especially from the Pasadena area – know the names of William C. Carr, Hugh Anderson, and Herbert Nicholson. Grandson Christopher Carr explains, “When I was a cop [in Pasadena], Nisei often asked me if was related to William C. Carr when they saw my name on the badge. When I said that William was my grandfather, they would thank me or invite me into their homes.”
John continues, “My father and his friend, Hugh, would pool their gas rations and figure out ways to go to the desert.” They would bring care packages and personal items to the Japanese Americans in Gila River camp.
William C. Carr, a real estate agent, also saved many Japanese American homes by managing their properties as rentals. Carr, Hugh Anderson, and others went one more step and worked together to bring Esther Takei back to Pasadena Junior College as a test case in September 1944. Carr wrote many letters to public officials and **The Los Angeles Times** in support of democracy for Japanese Americans; his papers are with UCLA Special Collections.
John Carr tells of his family’s history, “My father had grown up in the hardware business in Chicago. Mom, Dad, and my brother came out to Los Angeles in the early 1920s and I was born here in 1926.”
William Carr had a hardware store on North Figueroa, but he became fascinated with the Poppy Peak hill behind the business. Carr bought the hill, built his home with a beautiful view, and went into the real estate business. During the war years, his older son, William, was enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and his younger son, John, was in the Navy.
Professor Joan Takayama-Ogawa said, “After the war, Mr. Carr decides that my parents, Hideo and Sonoko Takayama, would be the ideal couple to break the color line in the exclusive neighborhood of the San Rafael hills.” Carr sold a home on Brixton Road to the Takayamas and to Harry and Rei Osaki near 1956.
Joan continues, “It was very, very controversial. This was a concerted effort on William Carr’s part. His son, John Carr, joins his dad and sells property in San Rafael to the first Jewish and African American families. Mr. Carr received a humanitarian award after his death. On that day, many Japanese gardeners blocked the streets to Pasadena City Hall with their trucks to honor Mr. Carr.”
The City of Pasadena also recognized John Carr’s leadership in the 1980s.
Christopher tells another story: “When I was about eight or nine years old, my parents were down to a party near Linda Vista Elementary. I knew it was going to be a late night because they got a babysitter. But they came back an hour later. They sent the babysitter home and Dad went into his bedroom. I said, ‘Mom, why are you back?’
“She told me that while they were at the party, this woman said loudly, ‘Hey everyone. John Carr is here. He is the one who sells to the Negroes in the neighborhood.’ And then she pinched Dad’s cheeks. My parents left the party. I got beaten up a couple of times at school because Dad sold to blacks and Mexicans.”
Christopher also said, “Dad told me once that when he got into the family real estate business, Grandma and Grandpa sat my parents down – especially my mother – and told them that if they wanted to come into the business, that this is the way that they did business.”
John adds, “There was never any disagreement within the family about this.”
His son continues, “But Dad had a hard time getting membership in the realty association because they were trying to punish Grandpa. But I learned that the Jewish community heard about this and they kept on sending Dad customers until the Realtors’ Board had no choice.”
Later, John Carr was in the leadership of the Pasadena Realtors’ Board.
John Carr said, “I followed in my father’s footsteps. It was the natural thing to do. It was no big deal. It was an interesting time.”
We say, “Thank you, Carr family. It was and is a very big deal.”
Susie H. Ling is associate professor of history and Asian American studies at Pasadena City College.