Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview II
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-02-0008

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Good. And now let's try get back to Howard Scott...

GH: Yeah.

TI: We're trying to get back to the YMCA summer leadership --

GH: Well, when I went into YMCA there, you had roommates. Sometimes you had three, in larger rooms you had three or four roommates. We became friends. Somehow we hit it off well together. He came from a nominal Christian family, like I did, but not card-carrying Christian, you know baptized here and there. And I -- we, we hit it off that way, being just nominally interested in certain aspects of Christianity. But, we were also interested in going to school, but not just being bookworms. We had lots of interests that we shared. So we asked to be put in a room together -- applied for a room.

TI: I also believe he came from a, a small rural town similar to yours. It was up north, but not --

GH: Yeah, Marysville.

TI: Marysville.

GH: I came from Auburn High School...

TI: Right.

GH: And Thomas country farm. He was not farm, but small town -- both coming in, one from the north, one from the south, meeting in Seattle, and we asked to room and we got it. And so we were rooming for a couple of years. And then in 1940, an opportunity came for a special program, acceptance in a special program, Leadership Training Program. And it was tied in with the national YM, YWCA where YM, YW officers -- particularly presidents, and vice presidents, that sort of thing -- to take a special training course at Columbia University. It was a combination of Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. Because, we, we were all given jobs for about an hour a day at noon hour serving on the cafeteria line for our room, for our board. And for our room I guess, I don't know what we did. We got our room there, double rooms. And I had a roommate from one of the North Carolina schools. And we had about twenty five people, all told, mostly from the east, east of Mississippi.

TI: Was this the first time you had -- I mean you had grown up in the small town of Thomas.

GH: Yeah.

TI: You then went to a bigger place, Seattle.

GH: Yeah.

TI: Was this your first opportunity to travel away from the area?

GH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The first time I went outside of the state of Washington.

TI: And so now you're going to New York City.

GH: Yeah, and, and it was the first time I experienced a situation where the only thing I had to guess whether I'm going to there or not in activity, was whether I could afford to go there or not. And it occurred to me that at home, I knew by second nature the certain places I wouldn't be admitted. There were restaurants, and clubs, Masonic temples and places like that where you weren't welcome. I knew that. I didn't --

TI: This was because of your race?

GH: Yeah.

TI: And this was locally, on the west coast, or in Seattle?

GH: Yeah. In Seattle. We knew certain restaurants were -- they'll say, "Sorry, you're not admitted."

TI: Right. And now you're going to New York City where you didn't feel that...

GH: Didn't have that.

TI: That, that feeling.

GH: They had it, they had it for blacks. I mean they -- New York wasn't un-prejudiced. But they didn't draw the line on Asians. They had it to some -- certain extent in terms of anti-Semitic feeling. That existed in some strange way to me. I didn't understand why they had it, but they had feelings there. And, so there was, that was the first opportunity I had of a level of freedom that I didn't have, and I didn't even know that I didn't have that level of freedom. I just thought it was -- I mean it was, it was, you know -- I knew, I knew there were certain prejudices, and I knew there were certain places I couldn't, I wasn't admitted in. But I never had a clash with my enjoyment of the Bill of Rights and so on as an American citizen, and I thought of myself as a full class, full status, American. But I knew that this existed so that left -- I just -- the thing I had to do was to carefully not have the right and the left hand get intertwined.

TI: Explain that to me. I don't quite understand.

GH: Well, I wanted to believe in the Bill of Rights. And I did, and I really was eating it up. This, I really went for this. But I knew that every day I had to watch where I went. That I have to be -- if I were intelligent, I wouldn't be stupidly going place, places that discriminated, or wouldn't let me in. 'Cause, if I were at a certain other, certain stage of the race battles, we'd be looking for places to battle, you know. And we wanna find out, we wanna find out who's going to discriminate against me. And a group would go there and campaign. But that wasn't my aim --

TI: So, going back to New York -- It wasn't until you went to New York when this discrimination wasn't there that you really underst --

GH: Yeah. Certain kinds...

TI: Felt that?

GH: Of discrimination I didn't face there, and so I had a level of liberty that I didn't have at home.

TI: How did you feel about that? Were you elated? Or were you...

GH: Yeah.

TI: ...sad, or what, what kind of feelings did you feel?

GH: Well, I just thought that this is an enhancement of my citizenship level. I was limited 'cause I couldn't afford to go to anything that permitted me, but, it still cost something that I couldn't afford. So I still had that limit. But that was the only basic limit. 'Cause we'd pick things to do on our own sub committee -- picking up extracurricular program for ourselves. And we went as a group to various places. And traveling we just said we'll go by subway, regardless. And that was very cheap, nickel I think in those days. And we went to places, we found out that charged, or didn't charge. And we went to places like Father Divine's Heavens, where you, we wanted to know what kind of service they had. So we wanted to go to some of those, and then have a meal there for fifteen cents, chicken dinner for fifteen cents. And then we engaged in discussions up to a certain point, but we didn't go there just to harass them so, we, we raised questions just to find out what, what their defenses were.

TI: Well, explain that. I don't understand Father Divine's place. What kind of discussions? Or what, what did they stand for that made you want to have these discussions?

GH: Well, we went there because that was new. We don't have Father Divine Homes in the west here. So, we went to those places, we went to other churches too, services and so on, but --

TI: And this is all in New York City...

GH: Yeah, yeah.

TI: That you're doing this?

GH: This is just the New York activities. And that -- I mean it's not a -- it's a fundamentalistic but highly emotionalized -- but the music was interesting to us. And, and for the most part, really enhancing us. We liked it. But there were parts of their ministry that, you know, we, we wouldn't like to go back there time after time except to hear what it was like. So, and, and their answers were over simplistic, and blind faith in terms of the way we were looking at it. But we found out where they stood. And we went to art exhibits, and all sorts of things.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.