Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: James Omura Interview I
Narrator: James Omura
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 9, 1990
Densho ID: denshovh-ojimmie-02

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: The Sansei have always been told, they always ask the Nisei, "Why didn't you resist going into the camps?" And the Nisei -- especially the JACL -- always said, "If you were there you would have known we had no choice." Did you have a choice?

JO: Sure we did.

FA: What choice was that? Can you give me, can you give me an elaborate answer as to what the situation was?

JO: Well... let's just say... well, I think you have to realize that at the time, hysteria was not part of the war, declaration of war. There was no hysteria at that time. In fact, the hysteria didn't rise until about the end of January 1942, so most of us had considerable time to reflect on what had happened at Pearl Harbor. And as far as I could see, that we all knew that the prospect of eviction from the West Coast was not an empty issue because it was preceded by eviction of the Issei people. And naturally, we suspected, or I suspected that the Nisei would become involved in the whole program. You had to understand that at first there was no actual effort to include the Issei. Just merely the -- I mean the Nisei -- just merely the Issei, but eventually we got tied in in that EO 9066 by President Roosevelt. Still, I would say that we had a choice. I mean, you could have said... the least a person could do is at least protest. There was no protest.

FA: Who did protest?

JO: I protested.

FA: Why?

JO: Well, because I guess I was bred up in, on the Constitution, knew a lot more about history than apparently most people, most Japanese Americans, and I felt that the, if the Constitution meant something, it certainly meant that the government cannot do what they were trying to do. So I protested.

FA: How did you protest?

JO: Well, I suppose you could say that I was requested by the Tolan Commission, Committee, to appear, and at the last minute, and I went before them as the last witness of the San Francisco hearings. And I, well, unequivocally opposed eviction of Japanese Americans.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: Where was this, the Tolan Commission hearings?

JO: At the War Memorial building on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

FA: Did you have a particular feeling about walking up there and approaching the building and the hearing?

JO: No, not in approaching the building, it was a natural thing, you know. [Laughs] No.

FA: How about once you got inside the room?

JO: Well, I had never appeared before a committee or a congressional committee, and of course I didn't know procedures or anything of the sort. So I had to reorient myself as to everything during the, well, half hour, forty-five minute panel ahead of me was testifying.

FA: Who was testifying ahead of you?

JO: There were four religious leaders, a panel of four religious leaders.

FA: Okay, so they finished, and then they called you.

JO: That's right. So I went on at 6:12. I remember going on at 6:12 and I thought to myself, "This is awful late in the evening," and the committee's been interviewing for all day, and I could understand that they would be hungry. [Laughs] I was hungry since I had been at work. So I appreciate the fact that they must be tired and hungry.

FA: What did you tell them that you felt good about?

JO: Well, actually, I was disappointed at myself because since I had no text, I went, I just grabbed thoughts that came to me out of the air. And my understanding was that the committee would question so I just gave them a skeleton protest or outline of what I felt. Actually, what I told them is that I opposed the eviction and that I asked the determination of loyalty of the Japanese Americans be done in their present domicile. Because the reason being, that I felt that if they postponed it to a later date and a later site, it could be much worse.

FA: How was that received by them? Could you tell anything about their reactions?

JO: Not at that time. I thought that, that I had done a poor job of testifying when I stepped into the corridors and because they never asked me a question, so I couldn't enlarge on any, any of the topics, which I had fervently hoped I would have the opportunity, feeling that that was my strong suit. [Laughs]

FA: You told me earlier that you felt there would be a whole bunch of people protesting.

JO: Yes, I felt that there would be a multitude, to use my words, a multitude of Japanese Americans who would appear before this committee at their various hearings in Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles and would protest this eviction.

FA: And?

JO: As it turned out, there was not a single protest. And, which was a great disappointment to me.

FA: Why do you think that was?

JO: That's a hard question to answer, except for the fact it might have been a cultural thing. For instance, we were taught not to be too forward at meetings, if people criticize you for making statements, if you're too brash or too arrogant or something of that sort and they spread that word around the community and pretty soon you were ostracized by the community.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: Let me go back a little bit now, Jimmie. Where were you born?

JO: I was born in Winslow, Bainbridge Island, Washington.

FA: What kind of family did you have?

JO: We had a family of six; three boys -- four boys and two sisters.

FA: What happened to your family?

JO: Well, when the sixth child was born, my mother contracted childbirth disease which was determined incurable and my father decided to take the mother and the three youngest children to Japan and split up family. We had a, we had a choice, the three oldest had the choice whether they would go to Japan with the mother or stay in America. When we were told that we could never return, we chose to stay in America.

FA: Why?

JO: Well, we were Americans and Japan was a foreign country.

FA: What happened the day your mother left?

JO: Well...

FA: Did you get to say goodbye to her?

JO: No, that was our biggest... well, that was my biggest disappointment. We were told to, we were going up the ramp and told to stop midway, and then here come my mother and the rest of the children. My dad went ahead and packed them into a auto and the auto sped off. We never had an opportunity to say goodbye and we knew that, at least I knew that we were never gonna meet again. And it was a big disappointment to me because you'd like to have the opportunity to say goodbye.

FA: Growing up in Seattle, you went to Broadway High School.

JO: Yes.

FA: Did you play any sports?

JO: Well, I did turn out for basketball and baseball but unfortunately in baseball I had a problem with my arm. I had a good write-up before that happened, though, in the Seattle Star, I understand. I never saw it, but some people told me about it. I went to a, I was sent to a school doctor. He never examined it, which concerned me a great deal. He just listened to what I told him, how I felt and what happened. And then he suggested that I discontinue baseball or it might affect my health.

FA: How about other sports?

JO: I played, I was encouraged by the coach to turn out for basketball. And he was a good, well, he was the coach of it. And so I turned out but I had problem, I had injured my thumb. I played for a while but then I had to quit. Because not only my thumb but then work duties and stuff like that.

FA: At the time you did play basketball, how did you feel about that? How did you, how did you like that, being in the uniform, being on the court? Where did you play?

JO: I was a forward. Well, I didn't have any special feelings except that it was a sport, and except one thing, in drills, in basketball drills, the other forward kept passing that ball to me behind me, you know, so naturally I never caught the ball. You know, you run toward the basket and he's supposed to pass it to you, he's passing behind me, I'm way past that ball, I never got the ball. I think that was deliberate.

FA: Why?

JO: Well, it makes me look bad. It makes his opportunity as a forward better.

FA: What teams did you play for?

JO: Well, the teams that I did play for were the Baptist High Stars and the Sparklers from the Baptist league as well. The High Star played town teams and the Sparklers played in the Japanese league.

FA: What other well-known Nisei journalists played on other basketball teams in Seattle? You know who I mean... Hosokawa?

JO: Oh yes.

FA: Tell me, tell me who, who played and what team?

JO: Bill Hosokawa played center for the Waseda Nippons, one of the two strongest Nisei teams, the two teams were rivals, the Baptist High Stars and the Waseda Nippons, although they weren't in the same league.

FA: Did you know Hosokawa personally back then?

JO: I didn't know him personally, I saw him play. Because I often did watch the Nippons play. I knew other players on that team. You know, like Sacky Arai and Sparky Kono, Kaz Arai, I knew other personalities on the team.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: You're best-known as a journalist. How did you get into journalism?

JO: Oh, journalism was a pure accident. It happened way back in 1928. I was in Pocatello, Idaho, at that time and attending Franklin junior high school. And we were called to general assembly one morning and there was supposed to be a talk by the superintendent on the status of the school, which was to be a dry discussion. And then at the end, toward the end of his speech, he suddenly announced that the school was going to initiate a student newspaper, which was a big news to most of us. And then strange thing happened, a few moments later he announced the editor and my name was... well, I was stunned when he said that I was to be the student editor. 'Cause I had took no interest in journalism prior to that.

FA: In San Francisco, Jimmie, you had another magazine.

JO: Yes.

FA: What was it called and why did you start it?

JO: Current Life. Why... for one thing, because my views were different from the views of the other Nisei editors, it became difficult to get into the media, well, to get whatever I wrote to be published. And so there were some important things that ought to be -- that I felt that ought to be said, which was not being covered by the Nisei editors.

FA: For example, what did you feel was not being covered, and how were your views different?

JO: Well, the problem was that the other editors were concentrating or focusing inward toward their own ethnic group and ignoring the fact that what was happening in Washington, what was happening in world around them, that these things directly affected their lives and should be, that they should take an interest in them.


FA: Current Life was different from any other Nisei magazine, different. What set it apart, Jimmie?

JO: Well, we had a purpose in Current Life in that it was to build the image of the Japanese American and to carry that forward to the intellectual American, American, well, they were American, too, but to the general mainstream market. And so we encouraged the Nisei talents wherever possible and we featured it and we tried to show that the Japanese Americans were just like they were, they are, the general mainstream, that we weren't something, something that was peculiar or some foreign or anything of the sort. You have to remember that during this period and all through my growing up, that there was tremendous economic prejudice against Japanese Americans and one of the mission of the publication was to attempt to break down that barrier through, and the best way to do that, I felt, was to approach the intellectual community.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: Jimmie, you, Current Life was well-known for hiring Nisei fiction writers, the whole literary scene. Why did you do that, go out of your way to find the writers?

JO: Well, I thought that the Nisei talent in the literary field was the strongest, that is, based upon their writings in vernacular newspapers, you know, New Year's special or something like that. And I thought that would be the best way to reach a bigger audience, is to show that these people had the same type of ability and talent as the greater, wider field enjoyed. And instead of trying to consider us as simply laborers, you know, the lowest rank or something like that, we were a lot more than laborers, you know. Or so I felt.

FA: Did you find an audience for that?

JO: Yes, I thought we found a great audience. From, well, the letters we received from all around the country, even outside the country, indicated that they appreciated this type of a publication. And we were particularly proud of the fact that the universities and the public libraries from one coast to the other subscribed to it or expressed great interest in the magazine. And of course we were really proud when the Library of Congress became a subscriber, we were the first Asian journal on the mainland to be accepted on the subscription rolls of the Library of Congress. We were proud of that. [Laughs]

FA: Inside the Japanese American community, was it well-read or received?

JO: Well, it was very favorably received, but according to the, their reviews of the magazine each month, but actually we weren't aiming to, aiming for a large subscription among the Japanese themselves. They were, we were speaking about them carrying the message to a wider field; not trying to reach the Nisei themselves. We were going to reach them but we did not concentrate on them.


FA: The 442 was also a means of trying to show the wider audience that we were just like them in a way. A different approach, maybe, do you know what I mean?

JO: Uh-huh. Well, I have nothing against the 442 except if you tell me that they went to battle because of their fidelity to the Constitution, I wouldn't agree with you one bit.

FA: Why do you feel that they went to battle?

JO: Well, I think when people go to battle in particularly trying circumstances like this, that it's each man's choice, I don't criticize them for going just like I don't think that the criticism is valid when you attack the wartime resisters. For one, the resisters were standing up for their constitutional rights, the other felt that it was the patriotic thing to do, I suppose. I don't know, I wasn't one of them.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: Well, since we're there, let's talk about the Rocky Shimpo newspaper. As editor of the Rocky Shimpo, you wrote editorials.

JO: Yes.

FA: What kind of editorials did you write?

JO: Well, I wrote a great variety of editorials. It is incorrect to say that all I concentrated was on the Fair Play Committee, which is not true. If you went back and looked them up, there are very few. In fact, half a dozen or so. But I wrote about discrimination, nationwide, about, about the wrongs of this action of evicting us from the West Coast, about the very facets of that, about detaining the Japanese in the concentration camps. In fact, I mentioned, I called these so-called relocation centers concentration camps in 1944. No one else was calling it then, but I, in my conversation with Lee Casey, vice president of Rocky Mountain News, I discussed it as a concentration camp and compared it with, with people in the... well, let's say the convicts at Canyon City.

FA: What is the name of your most famous, your most well-scrutinized editorial at the Rocky Shimpo, and what was the point of that editorial?

JO: Well, it so happened that on Feb. 28, 1944, I wrote the first editorial and I titled it "Let Us Not Be Rash." The reason I wrote that is because at the time, there were five young Nisei at Amache center who were picked up for refusal to report for induction and they were spouting out about loyalty, that they were disloyal, or they were loyal to Japan and stuff like that. And I felt that they were taking the wrong approach, because they weren't disloyal, but out of frustration were making these wild statement. And these wild statements was actually making the rest of the Japanese Americans look bad. You know, their image... they were walking right into the exact thing that the newspapers were accusing them of, "disloyal to the United States," and at the same time, thirty boys at Minidoka camp in Idaho, in order to avoid induction, asked for renunciation, which I felt was a bad move. On the same basis as these boys at Amache, they did that out of frustration. So I thought to myself that the JACL, instead of giving guidance, was accusing people who took this different path, and I felt that these, someone should throw out what I felt was an anchor that these people could use that would be substantial. It wasn't easy to arrive at that. But since I was, I thought there might be, in fact, I worried about it over the weekend and then I wrote this editorial feeling that the Constitution was the only basis they had to object. So I sat down and wrote it with the idea that possibly some people could, some of the others who would be coming up later would have a basis to, to reason why they were not reporting. As far as reporting was concerned, I knew that there be others.

FA: And as it turns out, I'll talk to Frank Emi and he'll say, "We read that editorial in camp and we responded." Or Kiyoshi Okamoto read it, or I don't know who read it, but you got the response, right?

JO: That's right. Quickly.

FA: How did it come?

JO: [Laughs] On March 3rd -- here I wrote this on February 28th -- on March 3rd, a young woman walked into the editorial office and announced that she was Sylvia Toshiyuki. I didn't recognize the name, of course, and then she says, "My husband operates the San Quo Low Cafe on Curtis Street," and I'd seen the sign, and I knew what, that the San Quo Low sponsored a Nisei basketball team. So...

FA: How did she behave? What was her behavior when she came to your office?

JO: Well, I was watching her come up the steps and she seemed to be very fearful. Looked behind her, looked to her sides, and she was very nervous when she approached me, see. And then she told me that she was a very good friend of Kiyoshi Okamoto and that he had written these documents which she held in her hand and she says, "I think he is a genius." Well, I didn't know anything about Kiyoshi Okamoto or I didn't even know that there was an organization in Heart Mountain. This was, this was the first intimation that I had of such a thing. Then suddenly she shoved her documents into my hand and said, "I want you to read this." And she says, "I'm double-parked outside and I'll have to go," and she turned around and disappeared.

FA: Do you think she had a car?

JO: No, I don't think she has a car. I never saw it. And I don't think she was in a position where she would require a car.

FA: Looking back on it now, what was she afraid of?

JO: Well, she was afraid of the FBI.

FA: Why?

JO: She thought they were tailing her.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: What happened next? Did you have contact with the Fair Play Committee or... oh, you read the documents and then what, did you write about, write about it?

JO: Yes. I didn't exactly write about the main document which was a twenty-nine-page proclamation to Attorney General Biddle. But, among the document was this little information about the formation of a Fair Play Committee, and I thought that was important news. And so I wrote an article about it, and, and about the people that headed it. And I featured that in the Rocky Shimpo Monday morning.

FA: What was it about this Fair Play Committee that you, that struck you?

JO: Well, they were on the identical path as I was on the restoration of constitutional rights. What interested me particularly was the fact that they were going to challenge the United States government in a legal manner and that they had acquired a attorney in Denver for that purpose. And, of course, my stand was that if... if anyone challenged the government on the legal or legislative route, that I would support. Now, I stated that in that first editorial, that I would support anyone who sought in a legal manner. And these people were, declared themselves as using legal measures, so that's why I supported them. I kept my word. [Laughs]

FA: Were you aware of the impact those editorials had in camp, especially in Heart Mountain?

JO: Well, in Heart Mountain, we did get feedback. We had represented the newspaper as, representative up in Heart Mountain who were going back and forth, and two of 'em returned and told me that the Rocky Shimpo was being snapped up so fast they're waiting for its arrival. Then, of course, we know that substantial increase in subscription resulted.

FA: So you knew you were on to something?

JO: Well, I wasn't so much concerned with that as the basic constitutional questions. The economics was not something that was a feature of my efforts. [Laughs]

FA: Well, how did you feel about that? That you had editorialized, called for this, and then here comes the Fair Play Committee and the constitutional idea was being responded to. How did you feel? How did you feel about that?

JO: Well, that's good question because I worried about the fact that the Japanese Americans accepted their eviction from the West Coast passively, and bothered me a great deal. And when I arrived in Denver, because of my concern about that, I tried to, to form a... I guess you could say a redress campaign, and I, and when I arranged with a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm to handle the case. And then I communicated with whatever communication I had with the various camps to mostly writers that had connection with, that to pass it around in their various, well, many were assembly centers. In fact, I think all of them were assembly centers at that time, this was in April of 19', well, April or first part of May of 1942. So unfortunately, I received not a single response to my letters, to writers like Toshio Mori, Toshio Mori and in Chicago, Tom Masamori or something like that. He was editor of the Chicago newspaper, Chicago Shimpo.

FA: Who else?

JO: He's a strong JACL leader there.

FA: Who else did you write to?

JO: Oh, I can't remember all of them. The reason I could remember these is because I have copies of the letters to them.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: Wait a minute, this is, William Hohri said that you were the first to call for redress back in May of '42.

JO: Yes, yes. That was it.

FA: What were you after? What did you say? What did you say?

JO: We were after rectification of constitutional wrongs and reparation as a result.

FA: How were you going, how were you going to go after that with this Washington lawyer?

JO: Well, yes, the law firm was going to file suit and they expressed a willingness to file that suit and gave us terms that I felt, in fact, comparing to later day, it was very reasonable. Although at that time the dollar was different, you know.

FA: Did you ask for the JACL's help in doing this?

JO: No, of course I wouldn't.

FA: Why not?

JO: Well, for the simple fact that the JACL had declared itself willing to fully cooperate with the government. There was no purpose, we were doing the contrary thing to fight the government.

FA: What did you think about the JACL's willingness to cooperate fully with the government?

JO: I thought they betrayed Japanese America.

FA: Go on. Why?

JO: Well, because they didn't stand up and represent Japanese Americans, they sold themselves to the government. A lot of people may not agree with it, but I was right there.

FA: They said that they really had no choice.

JO: Oh, there were choices. After all, there were about at least three or four lawyers who were willing to take a case against the government at that time.


FA: The JACL says that we had no choice but to go along because they had the guns on our backs. Did you agree with that at the time?

JO: Absolutely not. Not then or now.

FA: Why not?

JO: Well, I didn't have any sense that there was a gun leveled against us, for one thing. But I do know that they used that theory because, well, personally, I think that the JACL used the Japanese Americans for their own purpose, and for that reason I have a very great difficulty in agreeing with the stance that they took. In my estimation, the... I believe that the JACL used fear as the weapon to coerce the Japanese Americans into captivity. And although I understand to a great extent the fact that many household had no men leading it and that the womenfolks had small children they were concerned about and they were forced into whatever, I feel that they didn't have any choice, but I think the Japanese Americans as a whole did have a choice. The least in my opinion is that they could have protested, and if they had protested, that fact today would mitigate to their favor, but I'm afraid that overall, when you assess the evacuation, you're going to have to say that the Japanese went meekly into camp.

Insofar as using fear, I think the JACL has been using it, they used it then, used it later, and using it now to justify their action by saying that they were afraid the army would come in with guns and cannons and rifles and assassinate, massacre us, is what Masaoka states in his response. And I don't think that there's any foundation for that. The reason why I say this is because the Japanese, the United States government was very much concerned about prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese. They did everything possible to prevent their mistreating American prisoners. The State Department files will show that they were concerned, their, their policy was aimed toward not aggravating the Japanese government, and this would be contrary to Masaoka's theory that they would have assassinated Japanese American on the West Coast.

FA: Masaoka says that the good treatment that we got, it was necessary to cooperate and cooperate cheerfully in order to get the kind and gentle treatment that we did get.

JO: I have great doubt believing that it was kind and gentle treatment in those camps. Though I wasn't there, I've heard many stories of people who came out of there, and they don't feel that that was a picnic.

FA: Cressey Nakagawa, we had a videotape in San Diego where he says it was the government you should be blaming, not the JACL.

JO: Well, the primary responsibility lies with the United States government for violating our constitutional rights. But the JACL went hand in glove with the government and I can't see how you could divorce that from their responsibility when you're weighing the facts.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FA: The JACL, tell me a little bit about the JACL before the war.

JO: The JACL was officially organized as a national group in about August, first of September of 1930. It so happened that I arrived in Seattle on September 2nd, day after, and J-Town was buzzing with what they had done. They, as far as the community was concerned, they were not in favor of Japanese American Citizens League and they were very critical about some of the doings that went on during the convention. The JACL was never a dominant or major part in the lives of the Japanese Americans until the war. And the only reason they, it became important is because the government nominated them to be sole spokesman. Prior to that, the JACL was so low-key that even the people who were leaders in the JACL whom I went around with, they never spoke about the Japanese American Citizens League, it was not a popular subject to discuss.

FA: You don't like the JACL, it's known, but were there any JACL members that you did like?

JO: At that time there were a lot of people I liked that turned out to be JACL leaders later, see. [Laughs] They were JACL but, you see, they never announced themselves, so I, and I could care less at that time whether they were JACL or not, we were just friends. Well, I could tell you one thing, I liked Ken Matsumoto.

FA: Why?

JO: Well, I met Ken, Ken was not a part of the Japanese community. He was a jewelry salesman and he was an outside man, and for one thing, he was a very friendly sort of person and I don't know, you just gravitated toward him.

FA: When did you first meet Mike Masaoka?

JO: I met Mike for the first time at the second meeting of the Bay Region Council for Unity, when he came rushing in. I had the floor, he stopped 18 inches in front of me and took over, and I couldn't move out, so I just stayed right there while he made his spiel.

FA: Let me back up with something different, Jimmie. Were there other groups in the community besides the JACL before the war, other, especially after Pearl Harbor, that formed in response to community leadership? I mean people were saying that the JACL was the only leadership there was. Weren't there other members of leadership?

JO: There were number of other groups in San Francisco alone. We formed the Bay Region Council for Unity and then there was the Coordinating Council of the Buchanan YMCA. Down south there were competing organizations such as the Retail Produce Workers of Los Angeles, the Buddhists, and one other. I can't think of...

FA: Why, what happened? Why weren't they becoming the community leaders?

JO: Well, at the time the suggestion came up, Tom Clark, who was representing the FBI on the Coast, brought up the name of the Citizens Federation or something like that, and the JACL badmouthed them and I don't know if Tom Clark ever followed that up or not, the organization he knew of. But there was also an organization here in Seattle, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was not pro-JACL at all, they were more or less anti-JACL.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: Jimmie, where were you at Pearl Harbor?

JO: Where was I on Pearl Harbor? I was in San Francisco publishing the magazine and working.

FA: So where were you the moment you heard about it?

JO: Oh, I didn't hear about it until that evening. Because that was a Sunday, and Sundays I drive out in the country and purchase cut flowers and stuff like that for shipping on Monday. And -- oh, actually, when I drove in, I noticed that the traffic was sort of light and I wondered about that, and when I drove into the city of San Francisco, there wasn't a soul on the street, and I thought that was unusual. And then just as I drove up to the shipping warehouse I heard, "Extras, extras, extras," and I opened the door and was standing there trying to catch the words and it was coming toward me but suddenly it veered off and went in a different direction and so I never got a chance to find out what the extra was about. And then a railway express man comes by that I had never seen before, and I asked him what the extra was about, and he says, "I'll go see," and took off. Then about two hours later, a group of railway express men came and I noticed several of them that I remembered from way back, were sort of familiar to me and when I asked them they told me war was declared.

FA: What was your reaction to that?

JO: Oh, naturally I was stunned. I expected that something, that a war would happen but I didn't expect it in the manner it did happen. So I didn't have the details, I just knew that the war had started, that's all.

FA: When did you realize that it would have an effect on you, on, an effect on all Japanese?

JO: Oh, immediately. If there was going to be war, it was going to affect us for sure.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FA: When did you first get the idea to protest?

JO: Well, I don't think I thought about protesting. It just happened that I was geared that way, I guess. [Laughs] Because I felt that... in fact, I didn't think of appearing before the committee. We discussed it in the office of Current Life and I had ruled that the, since the Executive Order 9066 had just come down the pike, you know, two days ago, that the Tolan Committee effort was a exercise in futility, so why waste our time appearing before it. So I had no intention of appearing, and then at work at 4:15, I got a call from my office, head office, to the shipping shed, and it was my boss on other end and he said to me, "Jim," he says, "you're wanted by a Congressional committee, there's a courier waiting for you at the office." That was my first indication that I was needed or wanted or something, you know. [Laughs] Yeah, surprised me.

FA: You didn't even volunteer for the Tolan Committee.

JO: No. Last minute request. In fact, in the Seattle report, the Tolan Committee, that they had requested me.

FA: Very quickly, what was the purpose of the Bay Region Council for Unity?

JO: Well, I'm responsible for naming it because I passed the resolution, I made the motion for that name, and it was accepted. The original purpose was... it came from Isamu Noguchi, the sculptor, and in fact we were meeting at his Grant Avenue studio. He wanted to form what was called the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy. When it was, he came to my office and we discussed it and although I didn't tell him at that time, I had in my mind that this sounded too much to me like propaganda. He said he had direct communication with what's-his-name in Washington, D.C., and the man in charge of facts and figures in the Library of Congress.

FA: Archibald MacLeish.

JO: Yes, Archibald MacLeish, and that the Nisei group would operate through the Hollywood group, take orders, go through that channel. That seemed to me, propaganda. And I'm not strong on propaganda, whoever -- whether it's JACL, whether it's the government, I'm not strong on propaganda. Because propaganda is not truth. So, so I proposed that it be called Bay Region Council for Unity and then become community endeavor to express our feelings, you know, apart from the JACL. I didn't want it to be part of JACL. There was an effort to make it into a JACL subordinate.

FA: What was the danger of making it a JACL organization?

JO: Well, then there's no purpose in that because we don't have any influence. They could say, "Well, that's fine, but we're going to do it this way," and there's nothing we could do.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FA: The second meeting you held, also in Noguchi's studio...

JO: Yeah.

FA: There were a lot of... set the scene for me, just real quickly, in the studio. What was it like?

JO: Well, for one thing, before the meeting, in midweek I received a report that several of the members of that group was holding, walking down Buchanan, seen walking down Buchanan Street and heading for the YMCA to hold a meeting. And I immediately figured that there would be some monkey business going on. [Laughs] Otherwise there was no purpose for this ad hoc meeting. So I expected there'd be trouble at that meeting, and when I got there, it so happened that I was the last one there. And that meeting was held actually at my suggestion again because the first one I asked them to postpone because it was not representative, you know. There was only a small group, and this group was a large group. So large that everybody was sitting on the floor cross-legged, and half of, half of that group you couldn't distinguish who were there because the lights were low. And suddenly somebody said to me, "Jimmie, here's a chair for you." And there were, I saw them passing that chair toward me hand over hand. And while I was watching that, why, Larry Tajiri rapped for order. And then suddenly I heard him say that he makes a motion for my expulsion. And from the right there was a second. And I turned around and looked where the sound came from and looked straight at the leader of the Nisei Democrats of Oakland.


FA: Bay Region Council for Unity, Isamu Noguchi's workshop. Once you, once you got the floor, what did you tell the group?

JO: Well, for one thing, I did tell them that they should stand up and fight for their rights. If they're unwilling to fight for their rights, they didn't deserve it.

FA: And what kind of reaction did you get?

JO: I didn't get any reaction. In fact, I never got any reaction to anything I said. In other words, everybody kept quiet. They listened, they kept quiet.

FA: What did Karl Yoneda keep saying?

JO: Oh, Karl Yoneda, he kept interrupting my speech three times. Each time he'd say, "When is Mike Masaoka going to arrive?" And we didn't know that Mike was going to arrive.

FA: What happened when he did arrive?

JO: He rushed in like he was the big cheese and took a position right in front of me, about 18 inches apart. I could, I could see him, as he talked I could see his body trembling. And I, and instantly in my mind I'm looking right at his back and I said, "This fellow's scared stiff." [Laughs] He had just come from central California where these people were shooting into houses you know. Cause the hakujins were firing into Nisei homes. And then couple, a old age couple in Imperial Valley were slain in, while sleeping.

FA: Jimmie, doesn't that justify the positions that Mike took and the JACL, that we had no choice but to cooperate?

JO: No, I don't think so. If you look back on the record, it will indicate that these were sporadic incidents. It was not a common thing. And, and so ruled by the attorney general that there was no mass movement toward Japanese Americans. These were individuals doing these things sporadically.

FA: What did Mike, after he stood in front of you shaking, what did he tell the group?

JO: He says we ought to get out of the area. And when I questioned that, why, he turned around and asked me, he says, "Who would want to stay, stay here under that consideration?" And I said I would. I didn't say anymore.

FA: Why didn't anyone else in this room, who was non-JACL, why didn't, didn't they want to stay, too? No one wanted to go.

JO: Well, I think the Japanese Americans, well, the Nisei were sort of transfixed with fear. And I think to them it seems like the only escape. With myself, I didn't generate in that climate because I wasn't that close to the community itself. You see, I was more or less independent and I worked for a Caucasian firm and my contacts were all mostly Caucasians. I bought from Italians and white people, and very few Japanese.

FA: That's how the Nisei felt, transfixed with fear?

JO: Yes, I would say that they were.

FA: What was the reaction of Issei?

JO: The Issei had very little choice because they weren't citizens of the United States. And I'm sure that they felt that they had to, well, to cooperate with the government or otherwise their position was very unstable.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

FA: What happened? Everyone keeps saying the JACL informed on the community.

JO: They did.

FA: Okay, tell me, what did the JACL do, Jimmie?

FA: Well, they, there are ample documents in the Office of the Naval Intelligence in San Diego which is Naval District Eleven...

FA: I don't want to know about documents. What did you see?

JO: What?

FA: At the time in the community, did you see any informing activities?

JO: Well, you... if they were going to inform, they're not going to inform in public. That's why they're informing, is because it's something that is between them and the United States government, not with the public. We have no knowledge, actual knowledge, except on the record. The record shows that they did do so.

FA: Okay, how does the record show that from what you've seen?

JO: Well, the records of the Eleventh Naval District shows repeated, repeated reports into the naval district about these people who were generally Issei farmers, and they got picked up. We know from one of the informer, one of the lead informers, Tokutaro Nishimura Slocum, who says publicly, and he testified before Congress that he led the FBI agent in a raid of the Japanese Little Tokyo.

FA: If America was at war with Japan, why wasn't that a patriotic thing to do?

JO: Well, I think your answer is in the fact that the United States government did not indict us or convict or try a single Japanese American. There's your answer. It's that so many of the Japanese Americans were informed upon because of their positions or because of personal reasons. And one of the reasons I'm very critical of the JACL is because I'm one of the persons who was informed upon. And we have the records to prove it through the Freedom of Information Act.

FA: Okay, what did they do, what did they say, who did they tell? What did they say?

JO: Oh, they reported me into the FBI, first to the attorney general, but the FBI entered it and investigated me. Unfortunately for them I got a white paper or clean bill of health.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

FA: Jimmie, can you tell me about your arrest by the FBI in Denver for the publication of your editorials?

JO: Well...

FA: Where were you sitting? Where were you?


JO: Well, this happened on July 20th, which was long after I was removed from the Rocky Shimpo. And it was a period when we were having very hot weather. And I was physically tired and I felt my show dog needed a good long run, so it was a coincidence, I got up early at 4:30 that morning with the intention that I would go out at the break of day and finish my jog and then have the weekend to drive up probably to Mountain Valley and let my dog run. And then I'll rest while I watch him. It was still dark when there was a knock. And when I opened it, why, here was a man who identified himself as an FBI agent. And I could see just barely discernable, several other men, I didn't know how many. But he said at the time that there's another FBI agent and two United States marshals men. And he asked, well, he asked, first, of course, he asked if I was Jimmie Omura, and I said yes. Then he told me that I was under arrest. Then he held up a piece of paper and the man behind him shined a flashlight over his shoulder at that piece of paper and he began to read the indictment. Not all of it, just the first paragraph. And it was a secret indictment by the grand jurors of Wyoming. So then he entered the house and started to go through boxes. I don't know what he took at the time, but he took some, some papers and stuff like that. He went through all the boxes while I sat on a chair and watched him, you know.

FA: Well, how did you feel when the FBI agent comes to your door and reads you an indictment?

JO: Well, the, I had been questioned by the FBI before on that registration for selective service and so it didn't mean anything to me particularly except for the fact that I was indicted. And we had anticipated that someday they gonna come around. And we didn't look forward to it but we thought someday they would come.

FA: You were indicted for counseling draft evasion.

JO: Right.

FA: Is that fair?

JO: Well, if you're gonna indict me, you're gonna have to indict every editor who expresses an opinion, the editorial, in their publication. Because I think an editor has a right to express his opinion. That's one of the functions of journalism.

FA: And your opinion was what?

JO: Well, that I felt that the restoration of the constitutional rights and the clarification of citizenship should precede a call to service. In other words, I felt that if you're going to sacrifice your life on the field of battle, you have a right to be recognized as an American citizen.

FA: They took you to the Cheyenne jail.

JO: Yes.

FA: You wrote the letter from there.

JO: Yes.

FA: When you were sitting in the Cheyenne jail, how did you feel?

JO: Well, I was in isolation at that time, and I felt pretty teed off being put into solitary for no particular reason. And I wouldn't have minded it so much if they had let me have something to read, something to write on. At least something to write on. But lying there with nothing and you know, days are pretty long in a key situation like that. What they're doing is trying to... what do you call that? Mind... well, they're trying to work upon your mind, see. I knew that they were doing that and then I was sorry as hell about that, yeah.

FA: Where did you go after that? Where did they take you? 'Cause there was the trial. What happened between then and the trial?

JO: Well, I complained about a lot of things to the director of Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Bennett, through my wife and then when I, later on when I came out, I did directly. And because they got frustrated with all my complaints, they shipped four of us to another jail, which was Albany County Jail at Laramie.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

FA: Okay, so what happened the second afternoon was that you got to meet all the Fair Play Committee, you're having a meeting, they're having a meeting. Is that the first time you got to see them before the trial? I mean, not the first time you've seen them but... anyway, what, what happened?

JO: Well, I was at the Windsor Hotel and Paul Nakadate, one of the Fair Play Committee leaders, stopped by in my, at my room, and says that, "They are holding a meeting at two o'clock, let's go over and get into it." So we went. And as we entered, I could see a crowd of people, large crowd. Now this is the first time I've seen that many people. Different people, too. And when the door closed, I noticed that Wirin was sitting at a desk right against the wall, facing the group. I wasn't following Paul, so Paul went the right-hand side down among the group. And I don't know where he faded to, I lost sight of him. And in the front row there was Emi and some others that I recognized. And at that moment, Emi says, "All right, Tom." Next minute Tom Kawahara stands up. These people I know by recog-, you know, I recognized. And he says to me, "Jim, let's go." So I don't know where we're going but I followed Tom out. And he walks me around this block and that block and across and around and back, see. And at that, and all the time I'm thinking to myself, "What the hell is going on?" And when we finally arrived to the starting point I said to Tom, "I think I'll go to, back to my room." And I just walked off.

FA: What were they doing?

JO: They were holding a meeting.

FA: I mean, what the hell were they doing to you?

JO: Well, giving me a nice walk around. I need the exercise. [Laughs] Well I don't know, they had already planned this ahead, so that when I walked in, why, they decided they didn't want me there, why then, why was I invited by Paul to go? I didn't even know about the meeting. The rest, the rest you have to figure out why they would do a thing like that.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

FA: Did you ever think that you would be recognized for what you did in your lifetime?

JO: Well, I never thought that I'd be recognized by the Japanese American society. But, and I didn't really think that I would ever be recognized by any group anyway. So it's surprised that I have been. I actually, overall, I think that ordinary people are not recognized from a historical standpoint until fifty years after their death. And to really be recognized, I think it's going to take at least fifty years.

FA: You've had a hard life, Jimmie, because of your principles and your conscience. Was it worth it?

JO: Well, I think it's worth it. Indeed, I had a hard life, but I had a free conscience and I still believe in what I did and will continue to do so.

FA: Why is it that the community, Japanese American community still does not recognize, the whole broad community, recognize what you did?

JO: I think that goes, stems back to the, the cultural ancestry and what they have been taught. They, as much as they can brag about how Americanized that they are, I don't believe they are. In order to -- I think I'm far more advanced in Americanism than they are.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

FA: What was the significance, Jimmie, of that, that last dinner?

JO: Significance of the last dinner was because it was supposedly our last day of freedom.

FA: Can you elaborate again? Can you tell me in a complete sentence?

JO: It's like Christ and his disciples. It was our last dinner.

FA: Before the trial?

JO: Yes.

FA: Okay, so you and your wife came in down the stairs.

JO: Yeah.

FA: Tell me about that.

JO: Well, Paul and his wife and I and my wife came down the stairs. And we hadn't walked more than let's say six paces into the lobby when Sam Horino, one of the leaders, suddenly said to me, "You're a spy." I was taken aback, naturally. And then Guntaro Kubota, another leader, chimes in, "You spy." And this astounded me. I didn't know what, how to take all of this. And then I noticed that Frank Emi was writing a check or something by the office counter. And he, just at that moment, he looked up and all he said was, "Yeah," which I take as approval of my being a spy. Then Paul Nakadate stood up for me. And after he finished, we couldn't see him but Kiyoshi Okamoto was somewhere in the lobby there and we could hear his voice and he stood up real strong for me. And after his statement, everybody shut up. You know, like the voice from God or something you know. [Laughs] They quieted down. But I was so angry, you know. And we backed away toward the steps and I said to Paul, "I think I'll go on back up to my room." And he stopped me and said, I was partway up the stairs, and he stopped me and says, "No," he says, "this is our last supper, so stick it out," he says. And unwillingly I went, followed way in the, toward the end, you know, stragglers, while they went to the restroom. And on the way over I said to my wife, I said, "I've got no appetite for eating." And she says, "I don't either." And when we got there, we have to go to the very end because that was the only vacant table. When it came time for us to order, place our order, my wife says to me, "I think I'll order a hamburger sandwich." And when her time came, why, she ordered hamburger sandwich. [Laughs] When Frank Emi heard her order, why, he suddenly shouted, he laughed, you know, and says, "Coming to a high tone restaurant like this and ordering hamburger sandwich," he says, and he guffawed, everybody else guffawed, you know. And I had to order next and I thought to myself when everybody was jeering and everything else, you know, "I won't give them the satisfaction of jeering at me so I'll order same damn thing," but I was going to do much eating, because I didn't have any appetite. So I ordered the same darn thing which was some type of a beefsteak. I forgot what it was. In those days I could eat steaks.

FA: Can you figure out for me, explain to me what the dynamic was that they would think you were a spy even though you had spoken out on their behalf.

JO: I heard this later. Of course, I didn't know at the time, but I heard this later that they, the possibility -- this is only assumption now, the possibility, they themselves, no member of that group ever told me why. I asked Frank Emi, I never got it clear. The assumption was that they thought that I was there to pick up some information and turn that, their information in to the attorney, the United States attorney in order to get a better deal for myself. That's what they thought, they're suspicious of me. Couldn't understand why they would, would be. But then we're jumping ahead to assumptions. But at the time, after the thing broke up, we went back to the hotel. And on the way back to the hotel I told my wife, I says, "I'm through with them. Clean cut." Not, so that we didn't associate with them anymore during the trial. One week, you know, I never associated with them, never spoke to them. And then as soon as I was acquitted, we took off without saying goodbye or anything, we took off for Denver, because they could stew in their own juice if they thought I was a spy, and then I was real teed off, real teed off. I think I was teed off about them for considerable length of time. I don't remember how long, but for quite a while. Because I, at that, at this time I knew, well, long before that, I knew that the Japanese community had turned against me, and then the Fair Play Committee turned, turning against me, why, you could imagine how a person would feel.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

JO: Letters that were seized, that's all. The FBI, after all that questioning, no testimony against me. And as soon as I was acquitted, I was brought, naturally, I waited around to thank the members of the jury. And so I was in the corridor, shook hands with them, and just then I noticed that the FBI agent had walked out from the judge's chamber and put a cigarette in his mouth thinking he was going to light it. He took it out again the moment he looked and saw me over here, and he come dashing up that aisle. It's a long way, you know. And then, and when he reached me he shook my hand and congratulated me. I thought it was a nice gesture. He could have testified, 'cause he's the man who questioned me, but he never testified against me. There was no one testifying against me. The, I was prosecuted by the assistant United States attorney and he had no case, really, he just tried to say that the similarity in my letters and in my editorials was the basis of his argument. He had no evidence, there was no evidence, so how could he have evidence?

FA: What, Jimmie, what was the government's case against you?


JO: Well, the judge was a Oklahoma judge, Judge Rice, and we didn't like that. But Wirin had disqualified Judge Kennedy because he had ruled on the sixty-three, and we objected but he had done it without consultation with us.

FA: What did Judge Rice say before the trial?

JO: Judge Rice, the Sunday before the trial, went hunting with the assistant prosecutor and we considered that a bad omen. During the trial, my attorney twice made a motion for directed verdict of acquittal. Both time he turned it down, saying that enough evidence had been given to, produced by the assistant attorney to be given to the jury. When he ruled that way a second time, my attorney said -- this is after the prosecuting attorney had put in his case. My stand-in attorney, Mr. Sampson, said that the judge had gone against the canons of ethic, and Wirin came to me and said that he was positive I would be discharged today, see. Then he says, "I'm sorry that you're still in it," but he said, "You have a beautiful case for an appeal."

FA: What did Judge Rice say after the trial?

JO: Well, so he, so he gave the case to the jury, then after the jury acquitted me, Judge Rice told my attorney, who told it to me, he went, he went into the chambers and the judge told him that if the jury had convicted me, he would have sustained that conviction even though he knew the higher court would overrule him. Which meant that I was dead duck from before the trial even began.

FA: Why did he feel that way?

JO: Well, I think that during the wartime year periods, all the judges who, who ruled on the resisters' cases, except for Judge Goodman of California, were prejudiced or as they had direct instructions from the attorney general's office to see that we were convicted.

FA: Can you summarize for me very briefly, what was the government's accusation against you and what was your defense?

JO: Well, the government accused me of aiding and abetting others to violate the selective service law. And our defense right from the start was the First Amendment, freedom of the press, and we stuck to it right straight through.


FA: So you were about to tell me, what was the Wyoming Eagle reporter?

JO: Well, the Wyoming Eagle reporter was very close to me and when the verdict came down he says, "I'm glad you were acquitted," he says. "If you were convicted I wouldn't know what freedom, freedom of the press really meant."

FA: Was that Vern Lechliter?

JO: Yes, Vern Lechliter.

FA: What was he like?

JO: Well, he was a very slender, small person, and he covered the, he was the primary reporter covering the trial. And I would say that he reported as fair as a reporter could.

FA: Tell me again what he said to you after the verdict.

JO: That he wouldn't know, if I was convicted he wouldn't know what freedom of the press really meant.

FA: The government accused you of counseling draft evasion, you said as the first amendment. So you had a good, a good legal case, but how about a moral case? The Pacific Citizen said that you deliberately distorted the news to make it appear that federal authorities were stumped as to what to do with the draft evaders, that your sensational editorial policy sought to pit Nisei against Nisei and evacuees against the WRA. What do you think about that?

JO: Well they are quoting, some of that accusation came from the government, but what isn't told there is the government retracted them. They retracted virtually everything they accused me of. That I distorted, they retracted that. And they have proof that I did not distort. They (retracted) a number of other things that they charged me with. In fact, they withdrew all of them before the trial.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

FA: Well, the JACL basically accused you of misleading these boys, all the draft resisters down the wrong path.

JO: Okay. I don't believe for one minute I misled anyone. I placed the issue before them and they made the decision based upon that and other factors that they picked up. If anyone, I think the JACL mis-, misled the resisters. In their editorials, why, they went along with the administration-backed Heart Mountain Sentinel and accused me of various and sundry things that were mostly rhetoric. There were no basis for them. It made good reading, good copy, influenced a hell of a lot of people, but there was no truth to it.

FA: It wasn't not a matter of truth but of just perspective. They said James Omura would be inducted as the number one menace to postwar assimilation of the Nisei.

JO: Am I? I'm not. That places a lie on that statement. I've never been accused of being the number one menace. And if I were, why am I not accused of it anywhere?

FA: Why were the Nisei and the JACL so threatened by your stance?

JO: Well, for instance, the JACL felt that image was more important than good laws anyway, and I was standing up for good laws, and they were standing up for image, well we're on different track. They were just to, to please the government and to build their own image, why, they are willing to go along with injustice and I was not willing. And as a result, why, I was an adversary of theirs. And they wanted, they, it wasn't just matter of myself, they were against anyone who were opposed, any dissident, they were opposed -- the people who were dissidents in camp, they called them "troublemakers," and they wanted them segregated to Tule Lake. They advocated that.

FA: What did they call you and the resisters?

JO: What they call me? I would say they called me disloyal, but I never paid much attention to it because the government thought I was loyal. In fact, during the trial, the trial was interrupted when my attorney brought up the loyalty, I mean, my loyalty record. The assistant U.S. attorney objected saying that the government is stipulating that I was loyal and should not be brought up in this trial. And at that moment, why, the judge recessed the trial to give the opposing counsel opportunity to get together on stipulation and also to shorten the trial. So I thought myself that that was a very effective action that would have great bearing on the jury.


FA: The JACL says the resisters were disloyal because, because they should have fought for the army. Resisting the draft in wartime is by, on its face, a disloyal act.

JO: I don't think so.

FA: Why not?

JO: Well, there are many cases of resisting draft. You have the conscientious objectors, for instance. You won't call them disloyal because conscience tells them not to. In my opinion, the resisters also acted upon conscience, the fact that their rights were taken away from them. And if you asked me why did I do these things -- and I've been asked that many times, and I always come back to the word conscience. Because we couldn't live with our conscience otherwise. So simply because a person acted out of conscience doesn't make 'em disloyal.

FA: But weren't they delinquents in a way, Jimmie? I mean, they just brooded too much about these things and they should have just gone along.

JO: I don't think so. I mean, if wrongs were done to you and if everyone whose rights were taken away from them throughout the entire history of mankind and nobody spoke up, we would still be in the dregs of mankind, that's all. It's because people stood up for principle that progress has been made. Civilization, progress to the point where we know what is right, what is wrong, and people have stood up for, many people have gone to jail. Even Thoreau went to prison, and if you look back, there are many outstanding people who went to prison merely because of their conscience and their principles.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

FA: What happened to you, Jimmie, after the war back when you were in Denver, you were released, you needed a job, right?

JO: Uh-huh.

FA: Okay. Where did you go apply and what happened?

JO: Well, my strong suit at the time was that I knew the city and I didn't like a job just in one spot, I liked to move around, so I applied for a transfer job. And when I approached the office I was asked to wait for fifteen minutes. And while I as waiting, I saw a Nisei come out of a van where he was helping load, I guess, and averting his face, run across the dock to the office. He was in there for a considerable length of time and then he came out and still averting his face, he went back to the van. And about five minutes later I was called into the office, and when I opened the door and walked in I was facing the personnel director who was a young red-haired fellow, but his face was all red, red, too, as if he had been engaged in some kind of angry discussions. The first thing he asked me is, "Have you changed your mind?" Which struck me as odd so I asked him, "What about?" And he says, "Do you believe what you believe before?" And I says, "Why, sure." And he says, "You still believe what you believed before?" I said, "Yes." He says, "You haven't changed your mind?" I says, "No," I says, "there's no reason why I should change my mind because I was acquitted." And he says, "And you still believe the way you did?" I says, "Absolutely." And his face was all beet red, beet red and he was hostile right off the bat. He was so hostile. And I could read the signs. I know I'm not going to get the job, see. So he finally says to me, "Well," he says, "if we decide to hire you, we'll give you a telephone call." I know that the telephone call was not coming and I turned around and walked out of there knowing that that was all washed up. And it was.

FA: You got other jobs at other places where you happened to go where Nisei happened to work, too. What happened then after you got the job?

JO: Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't know that the Nisei were working there. I applied for the job. The next job I applied for, why, I got the job. And the man says to me, "Report in the morning at eight o'clock." And I went back home and about two hours later I received a telephone call from the personnel director who had interviewed, and he tells me, "We have three or four boys working for us and I talked to them," he says. "And feelings are running pretty high against you, and maybe you shouldn't report for work tomorrow morning." So I knew that job was washed out. He talked to me very nice, though.

FA: You did get a job, finally. You got a job and then --

JO: I got a job finally after a number of similar incidents.

FA: You were so broke by then, how did you get home, and why?

JO: Well, I walked all that distance in order to save ten cents car fare. Just couldn't afford it.

FA: How did you feel about that?

JO: Well, after work, a hard day's work, why, I almost threw up a couple times walking that distance. I felt pretty bad, to tell you the truth, because I didn't know if I could make it to next payday or first payday. Yeah, I felt pretty bad. Against, let's say the community as a whole.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

FA: What did you think?

JO: Well, actually, what I thought was that an apology alone was insufficient. And just to the "no-no" boy, I thought it was for, for all dissents, and I think a apology is in order by the, by the JACL to the Japanese American community. And I was in favor that they at least make that gesture because of the gulf of misunderstanding or feelings that exist in the Japanese American community, which is not healthy.

FA: They would say that you created that gulf with your editorials.

JO: I don't believe... you know, that's the strange thing. I don't believe the editorial created anything. The situation was there; I merely took a position. The situation was created, actually, by the government, and if you want to blame somebody you have to blame the government.

FA: That's what they say. But then they also say that you blame them and it's not right for you to blame them.

JO: I blame the JACL for the policy they took in which they had no regard for the community's opinion, they were telling you, telling us, "We think this is what you should do, and this is what you're going to do." They were telling us; they weren't asking anything, people with opinions weren't allowed to express their views or listen, be listened to. And this is the problem.

FA: Mike Masaoka says, "We were young then, we were just teenagers almost. You can't really blame us, for we were so young and immature, we did the best we could."

JO: I wouldn't agree with that. Masaoka was twenty-five years, he was probably the youngest of leadership. The rest were in their thirties and forties, and I think, and I was nearly thirty and I felt qualified to express my opinion. I felt that the JACL or do feel today that they were mostly at least a few years older than I am and that's sufficient for anyone. They weren't teenagers. They're lumping everything together. The large majority of the Niseis were teenagers, but leadership isn't composed of the great masses. It's composed by just a few leaders, a small group, always. And the small group that controlled the JACL were in their thirties and forties.

FA: You saw the tape of Cressey Nakagawa, he says, "This thing is being kept alive in the newspapers." You and I are both are putting those things in the newspapers, quoting secondhand sources... but Cressey is saying this should just die, we should just let it die. It's so long ago.

JO: Whoever is guilty want the thing to be put to rest. They are not -- but it will die. A good chance that it will die if they apologize to the community and render some sort of a... well, what do you call that? Acknowledgement beyond words.

FA: But wait a minute, San Diego last August, they passed a resolution saying that they apologize to the -- they acknowledge the loyalty of the draft resisters.

JO: That's one small group. But if I were the draft resisters... you see, there's a different status between the draft resisters and some other peoples who were personally injured like myself. And those who have been injured are not going to, to be satisfied with some rhetoric. We want to see something like the United States government... if the United States government says, "I apologize to the Japanese American community," I don't think I would be satisfied or anybody else would be satisfied. These are only words. The reparation makes it credible. And I think the JACL do likewise.

FA: Again, the resolution acknowledges, an act to heal wartime wounds. They passed a resolution to heal wartime wounds. Isn't that enough?

JO: Well, if I, as I read the resolution, it didn't, it made the situation worse, not better. Because they didn't acknowledge anything; they defended themselves. And I think that is a very tragic mistake on their part.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

JO: It was actually Pacific Coast Evacuee Placement Bureau, and it was an accident. We had set up an office for Current Life to resume publication. And so many people came and gave us a sob story of how difficult it was to get jobs, and suddenly the idea sprang to light that these people, that we ought to help these people. So we converted the magazine into a Pacific Coast Evacuee Placement Bureau and began to offer them a free service. And we ran it for a year.

FA: Where did the money come from?

JO: The money came out of Current Life, because we had a substantial amount left over from when we were kicked out of San Francisco.

FA: Did that money run out?

JO: Yes, it ran out toward the... toward the, toward the fall month, I guess.

FA: Then where did the money come from?

JO: Well, I had to go gardening and try to raise more funds. And then I felt that the service had worn out its use, since by then, the private agency arose.

FA: What effect financially did the trial, your prosecution have on you?

JO: Well, I went broke and had to start from scratch. Had a tremendous effect on us financially because, see, my wife went out when the community refused to donate to the defense fund, she went out and got a double job and worked long hours in order to raise enough funds to bond me out. I had to be bonded out because that was the only way the attorney says that we could consult and do the job.


FA: So you needed money after your arrest. Someone, your wife contacted all the writers?

JO: She contacted all the, the address, names and addresses that I had in the office. And, which included people in camp and people outside of camp, New York, Chicago, all around. And she wasn't able to raise a dime except my brother who put up $150, the one that just died.

FA: At some point, didn't you say that the writers had abandoned you?

JO: That was when we were on the reparation deal.


JO: Well, that was pretty plain because it's the feeling generated from them at whatever affairs I attended, churches or at the bowling, for instance. And then you hear side remarks by members of the opposing team or your own team sometimes. And, and I remember one incident where I was in with a group that was Sylvia Toshiyuki's group or Taul Watanabe's group, and they asked me to stay around to go golfing with them. And I'm no golf bug. They are very strong on golf so I stuck around and I followed them out to the golf links. And this is late at night, you know, about midnight or early in the morning. And we went out to the golf links and start to shoot balls or golf practice course there. And I was the second person to get the balls and golf club. And the first one went to the left so I went to the left, too. And all the rest went to the right. And then when this first fellow emptied his bucket, well, he went to the right instead of coming back. Well, I knew then that that everybody was sort of ostracizing me. So when I finished my bucket, why, I just got on my car and drove on home. And that's the last I associated with a group.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1990, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.