On Feb. 19, 1942—just 10 weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor—then-U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending more than 110,000 Japanese Americans to "internment camps." The first group to leave were from Bainbridge Island; 227 Japanese Americans, many of them strawberry farmers, left for California in March 1942. Community members showed up to see them off, and Bainbridge Island High School students cut class to say goodbye to their friends.
Back then, the only known newspaper to have decried the policy in the area, maybe even the West Coast, was Bainbridge Island Review.
It's an ugly part of history, echoed in particular in a piece by Harry McLemore, which was published in The Seattle Times that year: "Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them." Bainbridge Island Review's owners at the time, Walter and Mildred Woodward, described McLemore as having "the intelligence of a blind pig."
The Woodwards' editorial was originally published before the order on Feb. 5, 1942. Who can say, they wrote, that Japanese Americans "are not loyal to the land of their birth"? The paper also had a Japanese American reporter write articles from the camp. Today Bainbridge Island Review and Kitsap Military Times still do more in terms of their coverage on the exclusion act and this year, the 75th anniversary, began a 12-part series.
What made Bainbridge Island Review unique to be in a position to take a stand (and want to)? Hank Helm, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, had a simple answer: "They were just part of the community."
"The native Japanese Americans who lived here had lived here for a long time. Many of them came near the turn of the century. ... They were part of the fabric of the island," Helm said. "I think the people of Bainbridge Island ... very much integrated these people to the island. They were just their friends and neighbors."
Still, the 1942 editorial by the Woodwards was a little tame. The piece ends with calling for Japanese Americans to continue to be loyal to the U.S. despite the unfair treatment. American soldiers were giving their lives, they wrote, and "any other sacrifice is not too great."
It took 44 years, but Japanese Americans eventually received an apology from the government. In 1988 then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan issued a $20,000 check to anyone who was detained in the camps.
Helm said he thought it was especially important to remember now—"particularly in this climate."
Side note: Use of the word "internment" is debatable. They were concentration camps—as defined by Merriam Webster as "a camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined." They're also associated with the mass imprisonment of ethnic minorities. That's not to say the camps were comparable to the hell Jews suffered in Nazi "concentration camps."
Concentration camps don't necessarily lead to mass executions or genocide—defined by Merriam Webster as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group."