Crusaders


Young women's organization formed in the concentration camps that wrote letters to Japanese Americans serving the U.S. Army.

The Crusaders originated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Mary Nakahara, a young woman from San Pedro, California, presided over what started as a club of five high school girls that met under the grandstands of the camp. When Nakahara found her spirits in the concentration camp greatly lifted when she received letters from friends back home, she came up with the idea of having the girls write letters to Nisei soldiers. Nakahara had a brother in the army as did one of the original Crusaders, and the group started out writing to six soldiers. The project grew quickly, with some ninety Crusaders writing to hundreds of soldiers. The group also wrote to orphans in the Children's Village at Manzanar and to Japanese American tuberculosis patients left behind in sanitariums on the West Coast. Nakahara collected names of soldiers and their addresses, created form letters for the girls and contributed money towards postage.[1]

When Santa Anita closed, and the Crusaders sent to War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered concentration camps, many brought the concept with them and began Crusaders clubs at Poston, Heart Mountain, and Rohwer. The largest group was at Jerome, where Nakahara was sent. Her enthusiasm and organizing skills soon led to the formation of Junior Crusaders and Junior Junior Crusaders groups made up of middle school and elementary school age girls. She contributed her entire WRA salary to the purchase of postcards. Before long, the Jerome Crusaders were writing to 3,000 soldiers. Nakahara printed excerpts from the solders' letters in her "Nisei in Khaki" column in the camp newspaper, the Denson Tribune. Later, the Crusaders wrote a "Letters from Servicemen" column in the Pacific Citizen from May 1944 to April 1945. A Crusaders group even continued with the letter writing in postwar Los Angeles. The Los Angeles group brought its efforts to an end in August 1946, donating the remaining funds in its treasury to the Japan Relief Fund.[2]

After the war, Nakahara—under her married name Yuri Kochiyama—would become a legendary political activist. In her biography of Kochiyama, Diane Fujino cited the Crusaders project as "a training ground for organizers," and wrote that Kochiyama "would apply these same skills in her political work."[3]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Fujino, Diane C. Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Howard, John. Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Takemoto, Paul Howard. Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.

Tsukamoto, Mary, and Elizabeth Pinkerton. We the People: A Story of Internment in America. San Jose: Laguna Publishers, 1987.

Footnotes

  1. Diane Fujino, Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 48; John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 121; Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese-Americans during World War II (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), 255–56.
  2. Fujino, Heartbeat of Struggle, 48; Valerie J. Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920–1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 211.
  3. Diane C. Fujino, Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 48.