Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kazuko Uno Bill Interview II
Narrator: Kazuko Uno Bill
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 11, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-bkazuko-02-0007

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MA: So you had mentioned that you lived in Tennessee for a while, in the South, and I was wondering if you could talk about that experience, why you went there.

KB: Well, my husband, okay, so from Detroit we moved to Seattle in 1960s, and my husband got a... I don't know what they call it. Anyway, he wanted to go to this institute in Tennessee, in Oak Ridge. Actually, Oak Ridge was very interesting because it was the site of, the birthplace of the nuclear bomb. It wasn't the only place that was involved in the production of the nuclear bomb, but the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Medicine was one of the prominent places. And it's a small community in Tennessee where there, it's at the, sort of near the foothills of the Smokies so there were a lot of trees. And I think they had, like, a fence all the way around the city, and an entrance point, I think there were, like, three entrance points, three places where people could enter this area, with guards. Now, this was all during the war. Since the war was finished, we didn't have that kind of situation, but these buildings where the guards were placed were still there. Then there was this Oak Ridge Institute, which was a huge building that had these, actually, the atomic energy ponds. And I think we visited that, we were able to take a tour through there one time.

The other thing that struck me about the area was that there was still discrimination, and it was against the blacks. And it was Clinton, Tennessee, where the first black... well, there was something in Clinton. I think it was where the first black child tried to board a bus, and there was kind of a riot following that. So from the standpoint of living in this area, it was kind of interesting. Also, there were supposedly a hundred professors living in this small town, and so they were, you know, people who were educated and understanding of racial problems. But there was still segregation in that the blacks had to live in a separate area from the white people.

MA: So even in this institute...

KB: Right, in this closed, sort of a closed society of really educated people, there was discrimination. And at work, when there were black employees, it was very friendly. But then when they went home, they had to go to a different area.

MA: Did you work, at that point, in a hospital somewhere in Tennessee?

KB: I did. There was a small hospital in Oak Ridge which was established, I think mainly to do experiments and research. And they had very few patients, but they were using radiation and nuclear treatments, nuclear, what we called isotope treatments. Maybe there were like ten or fifteen patients at one time, and I wasn't involved that much with, with the cases. There were, the professors who made most of the decisions about how to, what to do.

MA: How were you treated as a Japanese American in the, sort of, deep South, and how were you, how did you fit into that, sort of, into those dynamics?

KB: I think there was no problem. I don't remember that anybody made any comments about my color or... I guess the Asians were considered more similar to the whites. I don't believe that there was any kind of discrimination.

MA: That's interesting. I'm just comparing it to the story you told me in Detroit where you couldn't find an apartment.

KB: Right, yeah.

MA: That's very interesting to look at the differences that you noticed in those two different areas.

KB: Right, yeah. In the South, I think we were more included with the whites.

MA: Whereas somewhere like Detroit, you were singled out more.

KB: Right, yeah. I remember one time we were visiting Georgia, and they still had the bathrooms for the whites and the blacks, and we would say, I would say, "Well, I wonder which one I should go to," just to be kind of funny about it. Just to point out that there was such a thing as separate facilities for blacks and whites.

MA: When you were living there, you mentioned there was some sort of attempt to desegregate the buses. Do you remember hearing about movements like that at that time? Like more civil rights type of movements?

KB: Right, because as I mentioned, Clinton was very close to Oak Ridge, and actually, though, it happened after we left. We were there just for one year, so it happened after we left. But there was some indication I think that some change was coming. And certainly the people who were working at the institute were not all from the South, so I'm sure that they had the feeling that things should change.

MA: And I'm sorry, just to clarify, your husband at that point, what was he doing and what was the institute for?

KB: Well, he was actually teaching, so this was an institute for teachers.

MA: Okay. So he's, was that his profession then? He went into teaching?

KB: Well, yeah, he did a little bit of that, yeah.

MA: Okay.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.