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Sam Hohri

Name Sam Hohri
Born July 4 1916
Died March 19 1947
Birth Location Yanai, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

An early Japanese American writer and community activist, Sam Hohri (1916–47) pushed the Nisei to participate in the larger society and engage with other groups.

Early Life and Writings

Born in Yanai, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan, Samuel Shiro Hohri moved to the United States at the age of five and grew up in California. He was the oldest of six children of Daisuke Hohri, a Japanese army veteran and Christian convert who worked as an itinerant Methodist minister. During the 1920s, he studied at the Raphael Weill Grammar School in San Francisco, then went on to attend high school in Pasadena.

In 1934, Sam Hohri enrolled as a journalism student at Pasadena Junior College, where he joined the staff of the school newspaper, Chronicle and Campus . In February 1936, midway through his second year, he was stricken with tuberculosis, and he spent the next years in and out of the Olive View Sanatorium. While at the sanatorium, he served as editor of a patient-produced quarterly publication, "Tab." During his healthy periods, he remained active in church activities. In 1937, he attended rallies of the religious group Christian Endeavor and presided at a devotional service. In April 1938, he served as an organizer of a Methodist youth rally.

Though Hohri was ineligible for US citizenship due to his Japanese birth, he was intensely fascinated by politics, and during the late 1930s he emerged as a New Deal supporter. In mid-1939, Hohri gained widespread attention for his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Japanese community. A bill was introduced in Congress by the reactionary Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia to institute deportation of all aliens who did not take out citizenship papers. From his confinement in the sanatorium, Hohri wrote radio commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr. a letter complaining that the bill singled out all Issei for deportation, as they were aliens ineligible to citizenship. Lewis in turn contacted Smith, who agreed to revise the bill to eliminate such injustice. Lewis wrote Hohri: "So you see, you were responsible not only for eliminating the objection, of which you spoke, but also of protecting other groups of citizens as well." [1]

In mid-1940, Hohri emerged from the sanatorium in renewed health. Even before his release, he undertook a regular column, entitled "Rambler's Nemesis," in the English section of the Los Angeles newspaper Sangyo Nippo (Industrial Weekly). The column was notable for its powerful support of racial democracy and intergroup alliances with other racial and religious minorities. Meanwhile, Hohri took a radical position on national and international issues. He was attracted by the ideas of Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas , who opposed militarism and intervention in World War II. For the rest of his life, he would pursue an active correspondence with Thomas, whom he informed about conditions facing Japanese Americans. In February 1941, Hohri wrote a column in the Rafu Shimpo about conscription, in which he approvingly cited at length Thomas's arguments against intervention: "So let the people who hold the ultimate decision listen," Hohri stated, "to those who are not convinced that war will solve anything." [2]

After approximately one year with the Sangyo Nippo , Hohri left the newspaper and went through a succession of jobs. In May 1941, he began writing a weekly Sunday column, "Cross Currents" for the Rafu Shimpo . In October, he took a new job working for the Nichi Bei Shimbun and hitchhiked up from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Almost no sooner did he arrive, however, then he was hired as publicity agent for the JACL , then based in San Francisco, and was charged with compiling and distributing press releases. His chief success as a JACL staffer came in early 1942 when he wrote first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to alert her to the fact that the local Red Cross branch was refusing blood donations by Nisei on racial grounds and was able to have the exclusion policy reversed.

Wartime Incarceration

The coming of war deeply scarred the Hohri family. On the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Daisuke Hohri was arrested and sent to an internment camp at Missoula, Montana . In the wake of Executive Order 9066 , the rest of the Hohri family was sent to Manzanar . Once in camp, Sam immediately joined three other Nisei in putting out a mimeographed sheet which they dubbed the Manzanar Free Press . Soon after, he was named the paper's features editor. He wrote a column for the Free Press , "On the Twin Pines Trail."

In public pronouncements, Hohri was resolutely forward looking. On arriving in Manzanar, he told readers of the Nichi Bei , "As a social experiment, Manzanar presents numerous problems of interest. As an essay into uncharted fields in the annals of this republic's democracy, we are part of the ingredients holding tremendous significance in these volatile days. Manzanar and its counterparts mushrooming elsewhere is watched with attention by both friend and foe of social and political democracy." [3]

Conversely, in his letters to Norman Thomas, Sam described the grim conditions in camp, though he added that Manzanar was relatively restrained: "In other camps they have the whole shebang that you associate with Germany: division of the camp in sections, each fenced and intra camp visiting verboten; sentry towers with searchlights and machine gun crews..." [4] Although he was too ill to work for much of the first summer, Sam returned to the newspaper in fall 1942. He aroused the ire of the administration by his investigation of the unprovoked shooting of a Nisei youth, Hikoji Takeuchi, by a camp sentry. In the wake of the December 1942 " Manzanar Riot ," Hohri wrote Thomas an insightful account of the event. While he insisted that there were pro-fascist Japanese Americans who were responsible for stirring up trouble, he also criticized the action of the camp administration: "When the MPs fired several of the casualties were among the ranks of the onlookers who were neither demonstratively supporting nor opposing the storming of the Bastille." [5]

Post-Incarceration Writings and Legacy

Sam Hohri remained in Manzanar throughout the balance of the war. During 1943 his engagement to the social worker Mari Okazaki was announced, but the wedding seems never to have taken place. After the West Coast was reopened to Nisei in early 1945, he began planning to move back. When New York-based activist Ina Sugihara published an article in the Catholic magazine Commonweal in September 1945 entitled "I Don't Want to Go Back," opposing mass return by Japanese Americans to the West Coast, Hohri responded in a letter to the editor that return was a moral duty. "The night riding terrorists of the West Coast would like to spread the miasma of the South to the West. In choosing to stay away and avoid this unpleasantness, there is the danger of reverting to isolation... if the terrorists succeed in intimidating the Nisei... their success will validly encourage and incite them to depress others--the Negroes, the Mexicans, other Orientals, Jews." [6] He restated his case in the Pacific Citizen . In a review of African American writer Richard Wright's memoir Black Boy , he called for interracial action against discrimination. "If we join our waiting friends (many of whom we must acknowledge are new and formerly rejected or uncultivated) to engage in creating a clean healthy social climate in California, we can go on to claim the swampland [the South]." [7]

In early 1946 Hohri wrote an article on the Japanese people, "A Japanese Proposes an End to Japan." He sent the manuscript to the magazine Collier's , but it was rejected. He meanwhile pressed the Nisei to take more of an interest in Japan and its future. As he remarked in February 1946, "[S]pecifically, I think our job is to see that Japan isn't pressed to be another Germany as it staggered in[to] its Weimar Republic." [8] Soon after, in May 1946, he suffered a relapse of tuberculosis and was forced to return to a California sanitarium. While in confinement, he produced a pair of guest pieces for Nisei writer Hisaye Yamamoto 's column in the African American newspaper Los Angeles Tribune . He died of tuberculosis in 1947. His legacy lives on not only in the work of his friends (Hisaye Yamamoto referred to Hohri as "Our own Orwell in more ways than one") [9] , but in the career of his younger brother, the redress activist and civil rights advocate William Hohri , who subsequently adopted the title of his brother's column "Rambler's Nemesis" for his own newspaper columns.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Robinson, Greg. The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches . Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2016.

Footnotes

  1. "Issei Status Protected," Rafu Shimpo , June 4, 1939.
  2. "Case for Non-Intervention," Rafu Shimpo , Feb. 2, 1941.
  3. Sam Hohri, "Cross Currents," Nichi Bei Shimbun , Apr. 10, 1942.
  4. Sam Hohri, letter to Norman Thomas, Apr. 23, 1942, Norman Thomas Papers, Princeton University.
  5. Sam Hohri, letter to Norman Thomas, Dec. 29, 1942, 2. Norman Thomas Papers.
  6. Sam Hohri, "I Don't Want to Go Back,” Commonweal , Sept. 21, 1945, 552–53.
  7. Sam Hohri, "The Nisei Situation as part of America's Race Problem,” Pacific Citizen , July 25, 1945.
  8. Hisaye Yamamoto, "Small Talk," Los Angeles Tribune , Feb. 16, 1946.
  9. Hisaye Yamamoto, "Writing," in Kong-Kok Cheung, ed., Seventeen Syllables (New Brunswick, N.J.:Rutgers University Press, 1994), 60.

Last updated Aug. 31, 2020, 3:40 p.m..