League for Liberty and Justice
A group of principled citizens in Hood River, Oregon who reached out to assist Japanese Americans returning at the end of World War II and who took steps to counter widely publicized racist acts in their community
In the midst of the anti-Japanese furor that brought national notoriety to the community of Hood River, Oregon, a group of residents joined together to counter the intolerance. Disturbed by full-page ads discouraging Americans of Japanese descent from returning to their homes and farms as well as by actions taken to remove Nisei names from the county's memorial board of service men and women, they formed the League for Liberty and Justice. Their title, taken from the last words of the Pledge of Allegiance, demonstrated their resolve for supporting valley Nikkei and counteracting the intense propaganda.
With little fanfare, fifty-plus members organized early in May 1945, meeting twice a month at members' homes or at the downtown Asbury Methodist Church, where inspirational leader Rev. Sherman Burgoyne served. They elected officers and devised plans for thwarting negative portrayals of Japanese Americans. Orchardist Avon Sutton, as president, wrote letters to J.C. Penney, Safeway, and other chain stories urging them to allow Japanese Americans to patronize their businesses. At his own expense, he published "Witch Burning," an ad denouncing the "witch burning spirit" in Hood River that could grow to "Nazi standards." He also questioned whether national and international fruit buyers might turn against the valley for its brand of injustice, bankrupting those involved in producing and selling the valley's famed apples. "Shall we write into the Bill of Rights, 'For Caucasians Only,'" he asked. "Let us not burn any witches in Hood River!"
Two weeks later the League sponsored a newspaper ad reprinting an army officer's criticism of his hometown news editor's acerbic remark. The editor of the Mandan Daily Pioneer in North Dakota, Charles F. Pierce, had commented in his column: "A squib in a paper makes the statement that there are some good Jap-Americans in this country but it didn't say where they are buried." As commander of 5,000 Nisei in the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe, Lt.-Col. James M. Hanley berated such prejudicial jokes and recounted acts of courage by Nisei soldiers. "Come on over here, Charlie," he had challenged. "I'll show you 'where some good Jap-Americans are buried.'" In a footnote to the ad, the League added that several local "boys of Japanese descent" served with that unit.
As Nikkei began returning to the valley, League secretary Hazel V. Smith sent them letters, expressing the League's "sense of shame" for the "unreasonable prejudice and vicious actions" of certain individuals. Assuring them that there were "fair minded people" who had "growing resentment and concern" for these wrongs, Smith gave telephone numbers of three couples and one individual whom they could contact at all times. "Don't hesitate to call on us," she implored. League members also met returning Nikkei at the train depot and drove them to their homes, purchased goods at stores that denied them service, and drove produce trucks when warehouses would not accept their fruit.
The League also promoted educational programs. One featured a War Relocation Authority (WRA) film, "Challenge to Democracy," depicting life at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, incarceration camp. Another program introduced Sgt. Henry Gosho, a veteran of Merrill's Marauders, the Nisei unit that fought behind enemy lines through 700 miles of jungle to reopen the road to Burma. Members of the League also encouraged local pastors to include intercultural themes renouncing prejudice within their weekly sermons.
After the war, members of the Japanese American community raised $170 in donations to express their appreciation to the League for Liberty and Justice.
For More Information
Tamura, Linda. Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
———. Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River. Seattle: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
U.S. War Relocation Authority. Final Report of Activities of the Portland, Oregon District Office. Portland, Ore.: WRA District Office, February 19, 1946.
- Linda Tamura, The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 237.
- Linda Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River (Seattle: University of Seattle Press, 2012), 169; U.S. War Relocation Authority, Final report of Activities of the Portland, Oregon District Office (Portland, Ore.: WRA District Office, February 19, 1946). Officers included Avon Sutton, president; Wallace J. Miller, vice president; and Mrs. Max Moore and Rev. Sherman Burgoyne, members of the central committee, with Mrs. Fannie Friedman of the district WRA office as liaison. Tamura, Hood River Issei, 316.
- Hood River News, May 25, 1946, 6.
- Hood River News, June 8, 1945, 9.
- Tamura, Hood River Issei, 238.
- Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence, 170.
- Tamura, Hood River Issei, 238.