Mothers of Topaz


In response to the restoration of Selective Service for Nisei, some Issei mothers in Topaz organized to write a petition protesting the continued discrimination against their sons' citizenship rights. The purpose of the organization was to voice their disapproval of the discriminatory nature of the draft, specifically the continued racial segregation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Even though the Mothers of Topaz were not successful in their efforts to end the segregation of Nisei in the military or to overturn military policy that prevented Nisei from serving in all branches of the military, they succeeded in making their voices heard. Their strategy of protesting collectively as mothers was shared by Issei mothers at other locations, including the "Blue Star Mothers" at Amache, and the "Mothers' Society of Minidoka". Their protest also reminds us that there were diverse efforts on the part of ordinary individuals to speak up against wartime discrimination. It highlights the fact that there were other ways in which ordinary individuals protested against the draft as it applied to the Nisei. The efforts of Issei mothers to protest the loss of Nisei citizenship rights more broadly also challenges mythic stereotypes that might portray Issei women as passive or voiceless.

Issei mothers explained that they were impressed that American mothers enjoyed the right to voice their opinions about national affairs, so they wanted to make their voices heard. They did not object to the fact that their sons were subject to the draft. They supported their sons' service and sacrifice for the nation. They objected to the fact that their sons were not, however, being recognized as full citizens when drafted to serve in segregated combat teams and not allowed to serve in all branches of the military. Each block sent two representatives to create a mothers organization meeting in the central mess hall of block 26. After much debate and after voting on two competing drafts of a petition, 1,141 mothers signed the petition they titled, "Mothers of Topaz." They sent it to Franklin D. Roosevelt and 5 other national leaders on Saturday, March 11, 1944. The others were Eleanor Roosevelt, Attorney General Francis Biddle, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Director of the War Relocation Authority, Dillon Myer, who forwarded the petition to Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes at the request of the petitioners.[1]

Responses to the Mothers of Topaz were sent to Mrs. Wakako Adachi, member of the committee of the Topaz mothers. Brigadier General Robert H. Dunlop reminded the mothers that they had no right to dictate military decisions. It had long been the policy of the War Department to use inductees where they were most needed to win the war, wrote Dunlop, and the War Department needed replacements for the Nisei units. He appreciated the mothers' desire to see fair treatment for their children and promised that every effort would be made to eliminate inequities in policies affecting their sons.[2].

Myer responded to the Mothers of Topaz with sympathy and a warning that they avoid any appearance of "espionage." He wrote that he appreciated the mothers' devotion to democratic principles, but in their devotion they needed to be aware of the time that it takes to make important changes like the ones the mothers were demanding. Myer urged the mothers to see the draft as a first step in the gradual restoration of their children's citizenship. He also gave them a stern warning when he wrote: "I am certain that you want to take no step which would interfere with the progress toward complete restoration of civil rights and the recognition of your children as loyal American citizens." His corrective tone prevailed in official responses to all forms of draft resistance, particularly those that hinted at an ultimatum.[3]

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Robinson, Greg. A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Footnotes

  1. Topaz Times, March 15, 1944, 1.
  2. Robert H. Dunlop to Adachi, March 24, 1944, reprinted in "Mothers’ Petition Answered," Topaz Times, April 12, 1944; Leland Barrows to Mrs. Wakako Adachi, March 22, 1944, reprinted in "Mothers’ Petition Answered," Topaz Times, April 12, 1944; and "Three Answers to Mothers’ Petition Here," Topaz Times, April 18, 1944.
  3. Dillon Myer to Adachi, March 27, 1944, reprinted in "Mothers' Petition Answered," Topaz Times, April 12, 1944.