Colman Dock Addendum #5 – Japanese-American Evacuation, 1942

While members of the Japanese-American families from Bainbridge Island are led across Railroad Avenue to the internment trains waiting to carry them to their California Camp, others looking down from the Marion Street overpass await their turn. Courtesy: P-I Collection, MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND INDUSTRY.


(This Pacific Mag. feature appeared first in 1999.)

On 10 December 1941 the Associate Press released a story headlined “Arrows of Fires Point to Seattle.”  By latter reports, either buried or not printed, it was noted that white farmers clearing land near Port Angeles started the fires.  The result of this and many other hysterical news stories that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an incendiary to the imaginations of West Coast locals many of whom fully expected Japanese planes to appear suddenly over Duwamish Head.

The bombs were dropped instead on the families of Japanese Americans, Issei and Nisei alike, respectively, aliens living here (often for decades) and their children born into American citizenship.

In “Seattle Transformed” Richard Berner’s recently published history of Seattle in the 1940s, the author’s unadorned telling of these routinely tragic stories reveals their exceptionally personal dimension.  Berner also details the “administrative” side of this moral collapse — the general abdication of democratic courage by public leaders in the name of “military necessity.”  He retraces the tracks of the political juggernaut that carried Japanese-Americans from their homes, businesses, and farms into the deserts of Idaho and California and the tarpaper concentration camps quickly assembled there to enclose them.

Because, it was explained, of their proximity to the Bremerton Naval Yard, the fifty-four Japanese American families farming on Bainbridge Island were the first local group uprooted.  Here on March 30, 1942 their guarded line is led across Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) to the train waiting to carry them to the arid isolation of Manzanar, California.  Camp Minidoka in southern Idaho – the eventual destination for the majority of the interned families from the Seattle area – was not yet ready.   Of course, neither the Italian nor German populations living along the Atlantic Seaboard were similarly evacuated en masse to whatever deserts might have been prepared for them in Ohio or Indiana.  The West Coast action was the sad and supremely stupid fulfillment of a by then decades old anti-Asian attitude on the Pacific Coast.

“Seattle Transformed” is the third and last volume in Richard Berner’s series on Seattle in the first half of the 20th Century.  On this subject, readers may also wish to investigate “Paper Trail to Internment,” a facsimile of Nisei Yuriko Watanabe Sasaki’s scrapbook of press clippings compiled in the months following Pearl Harbor.  “Paper Trail” benefits the Seattle Keiro Nursing Home, tel. (206) 323-7100.

Except for the Waterfront trolley (which were still running when this was first posed), trains have been moved off of Alaskan Way, but the Alaskan Way Viaduct has more than substituted their noise and obstruction.

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