By JUNKO YOSHIDA, Rafu Staff Writer
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry were considered ‘‘enemy aliens,” and they were tormented by discrimination and prejudice.
While many people showed hostility to them, there were people who stood up in support of Japanese Americans, putting themselves at risk.
One of them was former Colorado Gov. Ralph Lawrence Carr (1887-1950).
This Sept. 22 marks the 70th anniversary of Gov. Carr’s death.
Gov. Carr’s granddaughter, who was always by the side and watching him at that time, has shared her memories with The Rafu Shimpo as a witness to history.
To keep him in our memory, The Rafu would like to highlight here his contributions and his courageous stand for justice.
Hand of Friendship
President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. Accused of posing a threat to national security, approximately 120,000 Nikkei residents on the West Coast and in some parts of Hawaii were forced to relocate from where they lived.
Even Nisei and Sansei who were born in the U.S. and had citizenship were subject to discrimination because they had Japanese blood.
Japanese Americans had to leave the coast but there were no place to go. Many states refused to accept any Japanese Americans. Wyoming Gov. Nels Smith said, “If you bring any Japs into my state, they will be hanging from every tree.” The attorney general of Idaho also issued a statement that opposed to the influx of Japanese Americans into that state.
However, Gov. Carr was different.
He believed that discriminating against Americans was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. He stated that all Japanese Americans were welcome to come to Colorado and extended a helping hand to those who suffered from persecution. Furthermore, he opposed the subsequent internment of Japanese Americans.
His statement was published in a January 1942 issue of the Pacific Citizen, the newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).
Gov. Carr said in a statement entitled ‘‘A Time That Tries Men’s Souls’’ that ‘‘America is made up of men and women from the four corners of the earth, of every racial origin and nationality. It is truly the melting pot of the world … When we reached the United States, we have been transformed into new people, and we have left behind us everything but our memories and our relatives. We have become new men and women with new interests and new devotions and new loyalties.
“To the American-born citizen of Japanese parentage, we look for example and guidance. To those who have not been so fortunate as to have been born in this country, we offer the hand of friendship, secure in the knowledge that they will be as truly American as the rest of us.’’
‘‘You Must First Harm Me’’
Gov. Carr’s decision generated backlash from citizens of the state, some of whom became violent. He even made a speech in front of an angry audience.
‘‘Japanese Americans were protected by the same Constitution that protects us. An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen,’’ he said, adding, ‘‘If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.’’
Gov. Carr was born in small mining town, Rosita, Colo., in 1887. He graduated from the law school at the University of Colorado and worked as a lawyer while also managing a newspaper company and working as an editor.
In 1929, President Herbert Hoover selected Carr to be the U.S. attorney for Colorado. In 1938, Carr was drafted as the Republican gubernatorial candidate. He was elected in 1939 and served until 1943. He was sometimes called the most likely Republican candidate for vice president.
However, he lost a U.S. Senate race to Democrat Edwin Johnson by a slim margin in late 1942. It was said that his stance in defense of Japanese Americans affected his political career.Gov. Carr’s granddaughter Kit Lynch, whose maiden name is Carr, currently lives in Southern California and told The Rafu about her grandfather.
‘‘My grandfather grew up in a little town in Colorado and he watched a lynching in this little town,” she said. “He was a little boy and he ran up into a tree, so he is sitting up above and watching this whole town go crazy. Who knows if the man is guilty or not. No trial. The town just decided that he was guilty and lynched him. That was the beginning of my grandfather’s moral education.’’
‘‘He realized that a mob is terrible thing,” she said. “When people become emotional and stop thinking, they just become primitive. That was my grandfather’s education of how wrong that is.’’
Waka from Camp
Lynch is a daughter of Gov. Carr’s eldest son. ‘‘I am his first grandchild, so he adored me and I adored him. I often sang songs with him and danced together,’’ she recalled.
In 1943, not long after her birth, Carr left the governor’s office and started working as an attorney again. He hired Wakako Domoto, a Japanese American girl who was incarcerated at Amache, a concentration camp in Colorado.
‘‘He hired Waka as his personal secretary,” Lynch said. “He brought her to his home but people said, ‘She’ll strangle the child.’ They were so concerned that she would kill me because she is a Japanese.’’
Against such criticism, Carr retorted, ‘‘That’s nonsense!’’
Domoto was born and raised in Oakland. Before she was sent to the camp, she went to Stanford University and then helped her family’s nursery business. After she was hired by Carr, she worked for six months at his home as his secretary.
‘‘Waka was the dearest and like a little cherry blossom. She was so sweet and gentle,’’ Kit recalled. ‘‘My grandfather told her that ‘You don’t have to take care of our house. I want you to go to school and get training so you have a profession.’’’
After the war, Domoto and her family went back to California. She eventually became a secretary to the secretary of education in Sacramento.
Their friendship lasted a long time and Domoto came to Lynch’s wedding.
“You Can’t Judge a Person by Their Heritage”
Carr was a progressive person for that time. ‘‘He was a man before his time,” Lynch said. “While serving as governor, he hired an African American man and made him the person when you walked into the governor’s office, the first person you saw.’’
‘‘He felt that you can’t judge a person by their heritage. He had belief that people should judge a person by their actions and by their character. That’s why he welcomed Japanese Americans to Colorado,’’ Lynch said.
‘‘Some said it was political suicide, but he never regretted his action. Afterwards the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans. He just did right thing.’’
“Do the Right Thing”
‘‘I went everywhere with my grandfather,’’ said Lynch, who recalled that when she was a child, he often took her to the local Japanese market.
One day when she went to the market with him, the Japanese owner of the market told Carr that hateful people had burned down the owner’s house.
Nobody knew who did it, but at that time there was always a possibility that people with discriminatory feelings towards Japanese Americans could cause harm to them.
‘‘We went to see the house. The house had been burned. My grandfather made sure with the insurance company if they could give money to the Japanese family to rebuild the house,’’ Lynch recalled. ‘‘He always looked after people. His motto was ‘Do the right thing.’’’
This spirit has been handed down from Carr to his granddaughter, who has participated in a lot of civil rights marches throughout the U.S.
Regarding the current immigration issue, since she has seen the circumstances surrounding Japanese Americans, she said that she can’t handle this situation anymore. ‘‘Putting children in cages? We survived for four years but eight years? That would be devastating. Now America also has to address its own problem of the discrimination against African American people.’’
A Lifetime of Fighting for Justice
After Carr lost the U.S. Senate race in 1942, he decided to run for governor of Colorado again in 1950, but he died just a month before the election.
Nowadays we can find Carr’s name everywhere in Colorado. There is a plaque to memorialize him in the State Capitol and there is Ralph Carr Judicial Center in downtown Denver. A part of U.S. Highway 285 was named the Ralph Carr Memorial Highway and there is a monument on the roadside to honor him. This highway was the road that Japanese Americans from California traveled when they entered Colorado.
‘‘The Japanese community put a giant bust of my grandfather in Sakura Square in Denver. Over the years, always my grandfather’s name has been kept alive,’’ Lynch told The Rafu, adding, ‘‘I wanted to say thank you to the Japanese community. They never let my father’s name die.’’
Carr fought for justice throughout his life and we will never forget his courage.
– Ichiro Fujisaki, former Japanese ambassador to the U.S.
– Douglas Erber, Japan America Society of Southern California
– ‘‘The Principled Politician: Governor Ralph Carr and the Fight Against Japanese Internment’’ by Adam Schrager, translated by Toshiho Ikeda
– Denver Public Library
– Pacific Citizen