Why Portland's concentration camp remains nearly forgotten: the paper that supported it.
Will The Oregonian one day formally acknowledge its role in the local ethnic cleansing campaign that imprisoned and exiled Americans of Japanese descent? I'm betting against that since it can't even bring itself to mention the camp in recent stories that deal with former internees.
This week, on February 19, marks the anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's infamous Executive Order 9066 in 1942 which lead to the imprisonment of 100s of thousands of innocent American men, women, and children of Japanese descent for the duration of World War II.
The internments occupy a special place in Portland history, though you couldn't tell it by today's media.
Nearly 4,000 innocent men, women, children and seniors from Portland and beyond were imprisoned behind the barb-wire and the armed guards of a concentration camp called the Portland Assembly Center - located on the present-day site of the Expo Center - from May through September in that first full year of U.S. involvement in the Good War.
Only there was no Expo Center back then. It was, in fact, the Pacific International Livestock Exposition. That's right, a cattle yard. The camp facilities were hurriedly constructed atop manure-laced soil that reeked throughout much of that long hot summer of '42.
Executive Order 9066 set off a series of actions ultimately forcing more than 110,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent into isolated military-style camps in Western desert areas for the duration of the war. Prior to their final destinations, the internees from California, Oregon and Washington State were first ordered into temporary Assembly Centers, a total of 16 locations up and down the West Coast. The Portland Assembly Center was one of those feeder camps.
(Also see my earlier article focused on the camp conditions and internees at http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2008/04/375164.shtml)
Portland's modern-day reputation as a bastion of put-a-bird-on-it liberal thought and action may be well founded. But back during the war, the Rose City stood out as a hotbed of vicious racism that couldn't get the Japanese American population rounded up and booted from the city fast enough.
"The support for removal expressed at the Portland hearings was not atypical, but the Portland hearings (of the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration — better known as the Tolan Committee) did differ from those held in San Francisco and Seattle in one important way — the absence of organized opposition," wrote Ellen Eisenberg in "As Truly American as Your Son": Voicing Opposition to Internment in Three West Coast Cities; Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 104, No. 4, Winter 2003. "Small but organized groups opposing the removal participated actively in the San Francisco and Seattle hearings, but in Portland no organized group defended Japanese Americans or questioned the need for mass internment."
The following pro-internment highlights are taken almost word for word from Eisenberg's scholarly article:
--- Portland Mayor Earl Riley presented a statement (to the Tolan Committee hearings in Portland) urging quick evacuation of both Japanese aliens and Japanese American citizens.
--- At its February 1942 meeting, the Portland City Council completed the revocation of business licenses (to Japanese nationals) and then passed a resolution urging the federal government to proceed with mass internment, and urged the immediate internment of "Japanese nationals and persons of Japanese descent irrespective of American citizenship" for the duration of the war.
--- As early as December 19, 1941, Multnomah County Sheriff Martin Pratt instructed Japanese American citizens and aliens to pay their personal property taxes for 1942 in advance.
--- Those speaking in favor of internment (at the Tolan Committee hearings in Portland) included Palmer Hoyt, publisher of The Oregonian, who submitted for the record that paper's pro-evacuation editorial.
This wasn't a city reluctantly following orders from Washington to carry out a noxious war-time directive. No, it was more like a town hell bent on proving its patriotic bona fides by unleashing its worst racist elements in a manner not far short of direct physical assault.
It appears that almost no one outside the Japanese American community itself was willing to make a public stand against the internments, no one except for Azalia Emma Peet of Gresham, according to Eisenberg. Only Peet, a Methodist missionary who had lived in Japan, apparently had the courage to publicly question the internments.
"These are law-abiding, upright people of our community," Peet testified at the Tolan Committee hearings in Portland on Feb. 26, 1942, according to Eisenberg's account. "What is it that makes it necessary for them to evacuate? Have they done anything? Is there anything in their history in this area to justify such a fear of them developing overnight?"
During the first days of the Portland Assembly Center internment, The Oregonian went so far as to print a propaganda feature photo page of smiling young internees effortlessly going about their daily lives: hanging laundry, playing ball games, etc. One of those pictured internees is Jack Yoshihara, who had been a sophomore on the 1941 Oregon State Beavers championship football team. But Yoshihara had not been allowed to play in the Jan. 1, 1942 Rose Bowl game due to wartime travel restrictions limiting Japanese Americans to 35 miles of their home.
The still lingering issue, here in 2014, is the apparent inability, willful or otherwise, of The Oregonian to appropriately deal with its horrific past. At least three times last year, The Oregonian ran articles dealing with WWII-era Japanese American internments. The three articles all focused on or included Portland residents who were forcibly interned in the large military-style barbed wire desert camps.
The HUGE problem with all three articles is they failed to mention that these internees, before being shipped out of Oregon, were first imprisoned for months at the Portland Assembly Center. How is it that these Oregonian articles (published by the major daily newspaper in Portland), written by different reporters, did not or could not include a single word about the concentration camp located in its very own city?
Not one word.
The three Oregonian articles include the following:
June 30, 2013
Tule Lake internment camp's story gets new life as national monument
link to www.oregonlive.com
When I wrote reporter/photographer Beth Nakamura about the Portland camp omission in her article that explicitly references former internees now living in Portland, she replied, in part:
"As you well know this is very complicated history, not easy to explain and distill."
August 28, 2013
Celebration of Nisei veterans marks opening of Oregon Historical Society exhibition
link to www.oregonlive.com
When I made a post in the comments section of the article, reporter Mike Francis did provide a link to an article about the Portland camp by the Oregon Historical Society, and noted the camp commemorative art at the MAX Expo Center station.
I didn't expect even that. Back in December 2011 when Francis wrote about local people caught up in the internment fiasco in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, I wrote him, "You and your editor(s) at the very least should have made a fleeting mention of the PORTLAND INTERNMENT CAMP. Lordy." He curtly replied, "Thanks for the note. Obviously, I didn't see it that way. -Mike"
December 11, 2013
George Azumano, founder of Azumano Travel, dies at 95 after a life working to improve U.S.-Japan relations
link to www.oregonlive.com
When I wrote reporter Richard Read about his omission of Azumano's imprisonment at the Portland camp, or any mention of the Portland camp whatsoever (Azumano's Portland internment was included in his obituary [ http://obits.oregonlive.com/obituaries/oregon/obituary.aspx?pid=168697607]), Read replied: "Thanks again, Lawrence. I don't recall any mention of the Portland center in the far less detailed information the family provided for the news obit. How long did George spend there compared to his time at Minidoka?" -Rich
Obviously this Portland writer had no knowledge or understanding of the Portland Assembly Center.
How did these gross omissions emanate from the very same major daily that editorialized in support of the internments, sent its publisher Palmer Hoyt to personally testify in support of the internments in front of Congressional hearings in Portland, and published propaganda photo features of smiling happy internees?
I'm sorry, but this continuing negligence by The Oregonian in regards to the real life tragedies suffered by the hundreds of still living former internees is not acceptable, especially by anyone who knows this story.
On January 17, 2009, the Meridian (MS) Star printed an editorial "We honor and we apologize" that stated, in part, "There was a time when this newspaper - and many others across the south -- acted with gross neglect by largely ignoring the unfairness of segregated schools, buses, restaurants, washrooms, theaters and other public places. We did it through omission, by not recording for our readers many of the most important civil rights activities that happened in our midst, including protests and sit-ins. That was wrong. We should have loudly protested segregation and the efforts to block voter registration of black East Mississippians."
According to the Associated Press, The Richmond Times-Dispatch stated in an editorial on July 16, 2009 that it played a central role in the "dreadful doctrine" of Massive Resistance — a systematic campaign by Virginia's white political leaders to block school desegregation. The newspaper says that "the record fills us with regret."
Will The Oregonian likewise one day formally acknowledge its role in the local ethnic cleansing campaign that imprisoned and exiled Americans of Japanese descent? I'm betting against that. Probably the closest The Oregonian has come is a commentary by yours truly, "Portland's racism reflected in shameful ordeal," published in the Op-Ed Pages of The Sunday Oregonian on May 11, 2008. But try as I might, I cannot access it on the oregonlive search engine. Gone, as if it never existed.
At one point, Portland's daily newspaper led the charge to imprison and exile innocent men, women and children. Now, it regularly whitewashes the key component of our city's 1942 ethnic cleansing campaign by conveniently ignoring the fact - during the lifetimes of the remaining former internees still among us - that it ever occurred.
Lawrence J. Maushard is a journalist and author in southeast Portland, and can be contacted at email@example.com. More of his work at www.maushard.wordpress.com
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