100 Years of Activism

1935–42: Locals Protest Anti-Interracial Marriage Laws and Japanese Internment

The only known newspaper to have decried internment policies in the area, maybe even the West Coast, was Bainbridge Island Review.

By Madeline Ostrander and Valerie Schloredt November 21, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Seattle Met

1935: An interracial coalition fights an anti-interracial marriage law

In the early 1900s, Washington was the only West Coast state that had never prohibited people of different races from marrying. When a Filipino man and a white woman filed for a marriage license in 1935, however, Earl Miliken, the King County auditor, turned their request into a racist crusade, persuading the state house of representatives to consider a bill to ban unions between white people and “Negroes, Orientals, Malays, and persons of Eastern European extraction.”

Black activists united with churches, Filipino activists, and white labor organizers to oppose (and ultimately kill) the bill.

When a similar bill appeared in the legislature in 1937, it was dead nearly on arrival.

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Yoshie and Ritsuko Terayama depart Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942, ultimately bound for Minidoka War Relocation Center, in Idaho.

1942 Locals confront Japanese internment 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the army removed Japanese Americans on the West Coast from their homes under Executive Order 9066, the wartime plan to intern possible “enemies within” in concentration camps, solely on the basis of their ethnicity. The expulsion and harsh conditions in the camps subjected 110,000 or more innocent people to trauma, the loss of homes and livelihoods, ill health, and even premature death.

On March 24, 1942, Bainbridge Island was chosen by the army as the first test case for expulsion. With only six days to prepare, the island’s Japanese community cooperated with the removal, behaving with dignity and kindness that left some of the young soldiers carrying out the order in tears. Walt and Milly Woodward of The Bainbridge Review stood out among West Coast newspaper editors by taking a stance against the removal of their neighbors. They followed up by publishing reports from Bainbridge Islanders imprisoned in Manzanar, California, then in Minidoka, Idaho, and advocated for those who returned to their Bainbridge homes and farms after the war. 

A few weeks later, the thriving Japanese business district between Yesler and Jackson became a sudden ghost town when approximately 7,000 Seattleites disappeared from farms, markets, businesses, and classrooms virtually overnight. While the Japanese community was held at the Puyallup Fairgrounds awaiting transportation to camps inland, University of Washington senior Gordon -Hirabayashi presented himself at the FBI’s Seattle office with a legal challenge to the expulsion order. Hirabayashi’s case was denied and he served a jail sentence for fighting internment, but his principled stance on behalf of the Constitution and human rights was vindicated when the court decision was overturned in 1987. 

After the war, the Japanese Americans who returned to Seattle and Bainbridge set to work rebuilding their lives, often from scratch. It was up to the younger generation, and the next, to advocate for redress of a great wrong. They’ve continued to hold up the internment order of 1942 as an example never to be repeated, a history lesson in war hysteria, racism, and injustice that is sadly as relevant as ever.

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