Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL) founded in Seattle in 1930.

  • By David A. Takami
  • Posted 2/22/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5268

In 1930, the Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL), the first national organization of Japanese Americans in the country, is founded in Seattle.

The focus of the JACL was on sharing with the larger community the educational and business achievements of the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans). It was also a way for Nisei to socialize, meet, and pull together as an ethnic community. The JACL emphasized the American way of life, American citizenship, and so on. From 1936-1938, James Sakamoto (1903-1955), publisher of the Japanese American Courier, the first English-language Japanese American newspaper in the United States, served as the organization's second national president.

The War Years

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Sakamoto and other JACL leaders became defacto community spokesmen and acted as liaisons between the U.S. government and the Japanese community. Sakamoto headed the JACL Emergency Defense Council, which translated government regulations for distraught immigrants, conducted first aid classes, and gathered and distributed food.

The role of the JACL during the forced evacuation and incarceration of West Coast Japanese is controversial. Sakamoto and other JACL leaders went beyond acquiescence to active cooperation with the internment of 9,600 Japanese American residents of Seattle and King County. The organization actively opposed dissent.

In the months after Pearl Harbor, Clarence Arai, a Seattle lawyer who was an early leader of the JACL and a community leader during internment, reported subversive activities in the Japanese community to the FBI. Later, the JACL refused to back draft resisters in the inland concentration camps.

Challenges and Questions

The JACL line was not representative of the community as a whole. Seattle Nisei attorneys Shinao Masuda and Kenji Ito openly challenged the JACL's and Sakamoto's authority, contending that the JACL administration was undemocratic because its leaders were not elected, and that the JACL was a tool of the U.S. government.

Although the JACL received a vote of confidence in an election in Camp Harmony (the camp at the Puyallup fairgrounds), by the time the community was relocated to the internment camp called Minidoka in southern Idaho, the tide of opinion had turned against Sakamoto and other JACL leaders. As a result, they had little say in how Minidoka was run, though Sakamoto did help recruit Nisei for the U.S. Army in 1943.


Sources:

Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988); Bill Hosokawa, JACL in Quest of Justice (New York: William Morrow, 1982); Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: William Morrow, 1969); Yuji Ichioka, "A Study in Dualism: James Yoshinori Sakamoto and the Japanese American Courier 1928-1942," Amerasia Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (1986-1987), Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center at University of California at Los Angeles; David A. Takami, Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle (Seattle: Wing Luke Asian Museum and University of Washington Press, 1998).


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