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Seattle School Board accepts the forced resignation of Japanese American teachers on February 27, 1942.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3642 : Printer-Friendly Format

On February 27, 1942, the Seattle School Board accepts the resignation of 27 employees who are Americans of Japanese ancestry. The young women have been pressured to resign by the school district, which in turn has been pressured by a committee led by Esther Sekor, a Gatewood Elementary School mother. The white mothers circulated a petition and received a lot of press. The Japanese American women were further pressured to resign by Japanese American Courier editor James Sakamoto, who insisted that they would be fired if they did not resign.

History Retold

In the summer of 1983, a movement for redress was begun and the women who had resigned in 1942 came together once again. According to Robert Shimabukuro's account, one of the women told her story with great emotion, as if it had happened the day before:

"Called into the office of the assistant superintendent, she had been told that her employment, along with that of other clerks of Japanese ancestry, was a detriment to the school district. She was also told that she was expected to attend a meeting the following day, where she should strongly urge her Japanese American peers to resign from their respective posts. The assistant superintendent warned that each of the "girls" would be fired if they did not resign. The woman vividly recounted her attempts to compose herself in the ladies' room after the confrontation, so that she could take public transportation home" (Shimibukuro).

 

Sakamoto's Role

On February 24, 1942, James Sakamoto called all 27 of the women into the offices of the Japanese American Courier. According to May Ota Higa, one of the women, Sakamoto pleaded with them to resign, because as loyal American citizens, they should cooperate with the government; because resigning was in keeping with traditional graciousness; and because being fired would create a record of disgrace.

The women signed the following letter in Sakamoto's office:

 

"To the School Board:

"We, the undersigned American citizens of Japanese ancestry, have learned that our presence as employes in the Seattle School system has been protested by certain persons and organizations.

"Most of us have received our education in local schools, and have been proud of the fact, as we have been proud of our position as employes.

"We do not take this action in any spirit of defeat, but believe we can by our resignations demonstrate beyond dispute that we have the best interest of the school system at heart. We take this step to prove our loyalty to the school system and the United States by not becoming a contributing factor to dissension and disunity when national unity in spirit and deed is vitally necessary to the defense of and complete victory for America.

"We have no ill will toward those who have protested our employment in the school system. We feel that is their privilege.

"We only hope that the welfare of the schools will be served by our action in resigning the positions we now occupy.

"Finally, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to the School Board, the superintendents, the principals and teachers for the kind treatment accorded us.
Signed this twenty-fourth day of February, 1942.

"Martha T. Inouye, Esther K. Uchimura, Kyoko Kikuchi, Mariko Ozaki, May Daty, Kay K. Yokoyama, Yoshiko Kozu, Ai Takizawa, Yoshiko Yano, Kiku Tomita, Chizuko Ikeda, Marjorie Ota, Ruby Shitama, Toyo Okuda, Alice M. Kawanishi, Sally Shimanaka, Mitsuko Murao, Teruko Nakata, May Ota, Emi Kamachi, Masa Yamamura, Anna Yamada, Ayako Morita, Kazuko Kuroda, Jane Sugawara, Yuri Ike, Ayame Ike."

Undemocratic, Intolerant, Disrespectful

Before the School Board could approve the resignation, the story filled the papers. There were several protests, including a petition signed by more than a thousand University of Washington students that called the Gatewood mothers' petition "undemocratic, intolerant, disrespectful of the rights of American citizens."

The Seattle School Board accepted the resignations on February 27, 1942.

Redress

Forty-two years later, on April 11, 1984, the Seattle School Board began to consider testimony concerning a resolution for redress of this wrong. The resolution for redress passed by a narrow margin. An act of the state legislature was required before the Seattle School Board could recognize a "moral obligation" as a basis for making reparation payments.

The bill (H. B. 1415) passed the Washington State House of Representatives on February 15, 1984, and passed the Senate three weeks later. On April 3, 1986, Governor Booth Gardner signed it into law at a packed and emotional ceremony in Seattle's International District. The ceremony was attended by those former clerks who were still living. One of them, May Namba, had just been rehired by the Seattle School District.

Sources:
Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 90-100.


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