Sherman Burgoyne


Name Sherman Burgoyne
Born October 24 1901
Died February 4 1964
Birth Location Stevensville, Montana

Methodist minister who challenged World War II actions against Japanese Americans in Hood River, Oregon and then faced discrimination and demotion himself, though he eventually received national recognition for his actions.

A descendant of a British general defeated by American forces during the American Revolution,[1] William Sherman Burgoyne was born in Stevensville, Montana on October 24, 1901. He attended three institutions of higher education: Montana State College, Oregon State College, and Kimball School of Theology at Willamette University. A resident of Oregon from 1928, Rev. Burgoyne served churches in McFarland, LaGrande, Turner, Cresswell, Sheridan, Laurelwood, and Marshfield.[2] His next assignment was Asbury Methodist Church in Hood River, along the Columbia River Gorge north of Mt. Hood.

When Rev. Burgoyne and his wife Doris moved to Hood River during the summer of 1942, they had never met a Japanese American. Two months before they arrived, all those of Japanese descent had been forced to leave the valley, following government mandates of Executive Order 9066 that sent them to concentration camps on American soil. But following an incident that provoked national notoriety during the fall of 1944, Rev. Burgoyne's response prompted local scrutiny for the minister and his wife.

Early in the morning of November 30, 1944, local citizens defaced a downtown memorial board that listed the names of more than 1,600 local men and women who served in this country's armed forces. With black paint, members of Post No. 22 of the American Legion blotted out sixteen names—all those of Japanese American servicemen. This action, members claimed, challenged the GIs' status as dual citizens of Japan and the United States.[3] Earlier that month, Post 22 had passed resolutions to prevent the "rapid and sure Japanization of our little valley."[4]

While news media and citizens from across the country criticized the Legion post, it was Rev. Burgoyne's letter that made him the target of a public crusade. On January 5, 1945, his response appeared in the Hood River News[5]:

To the Editor: I have tried to keep silent, seeking to persuade myself that the removing of the American service men's names was a Legion affair. But I was mistaken! Having occasion to be in several cities lately, and making myself known, have received several times the comment: "Oh! You are from That Legion town." The atmosphere grows cold at once.

One man asked me if we had pushed the tombstones over in the Japanese cemetery yet! I come home hanging my head in shame! It is not only the Legion post, but every person in Hood River county that is disgraced.

Must I, as a taxpayer, look upon our Courthouse down through the years and strive to keep down the resentment within me? The Courthouse belongs to Hood River County and all its people.

I propose that the Hood River post of the Legion take their names up on the hill to their own building there and scratch off all the names they wish.

Then permit the people of Hood River county to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world by placing all the names of our service men and women on the walls of our Courthouse.

Yours for the American way, A Taxpayer, W. Sherman Burgoyne

Hood River, Dec. 30, 1944

The following week, Rev. Burgoyne made an overture to Post 22, explaining in a private letter, "Personally I don't think any group of foreign language or habits should be allowed to congregate in a single place, no matter what race they may be." He suggested that the local Legion separate the issue of Japanese returning to their homes after the war (which he believed should be settled by the government) from the removal of honor roll names, an act that he and other Ministerial Association members were against.[6]

Three weeks after publishing Burgoyne's letter, the Hood River News printed the first of a series of six full-page ads: an open letter to W. Sherman Burgoyne. The author, former Chamber of Commerce manager Kent Shoemaker who was also the first Post 22 commander, admitted to making one more effort to "preserve Hood River for the standard way of living." His intent was clear when, playing on Burgoyne's "Yours for the American way" signature, Shoemaker ended his own letter with "Yours for a Hood River without a Jap."[7]

Organizing a group of principled locals, Rev. Burgoyne co-founded the League for Liberty and Justice, aimed at countering the valley's intolerance and offering support to returning Japanese Americans. Named after the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance, the fifty-plus members mailed letters of encouragement, met returning Japanese Americans at the train depot, offered to shop for them, and drove produce trucks to warehouses when Japanese Americans were unable to deliver their fruit. Other members wrote letters urging businesses to allow Japanese patronage, published supportive literature, and promoted educational programs.[8]

Still, "no one knows how hot it was for us," explained Doris Burgoyne, who remained steadfast even after her brother fell victim to a Japanese sniper on Guadalcanal. "We expected to be beaten up or run out of town any moment." When Ray Sato, one of the first three Nisei returnees to Hood River, walked into the bank where she was employed, she left her desk to shake his hand, prompting a cool reception from co-workers, eventually causing her to quit her job. Someone threw a rock through the Burgoynes' parsonage window. And Rev. Burgoyne was also frozen out of membership in civic clubs and could not find buyers for his pear crop, forcing him to sell his 10-acre ranch with fruit still dangling from the trees.[9]

In 1947 Rev. Burgoyne was honored as one of fifteen recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Award for the Advancement of Democracy, given by the Council Against Intolerance in America. Selected in a national poll of 500 civic, religious, and educational organizations and 1,000 newspaper editors, he was honored at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Former Georgia Governor Ellis Amall, Stephens College President-elect Homer Rainey, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frank Sinatra were among other honorees. Leading off the acceptance speeches, Rev. Burgoyne expressed, "It is a sad commentary on American life that a person should be honored for standing steadfastly for those things which are right and decent and American."[10] The local Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) chapter expressed their gratitude to the Burgoynes by holding fundraisers to pay for their train tickets to New York, hotel reservations, luggage, and expense money, while also arranging for JACL receptions in Chicago and other sites along their route.[11]

After returning home, Rev. Burgoyne received surprising word of his next pastorate: a move from Hood River's community of 3,500 with its congregation of 450 to the tiny town of Shedd, with 150 residents and a church membership of 89. Two Methodist district superintendents in Washington (filling in for the deceased bishop who had made the assignment) intervened, transferring him to Hays Park Methodist Church in Spokane, a church about the size of his first post twenty-seven years earlier. New York Times correspondent Richard L. Neuberger (later a U.S. senator from Oregon) criticized the "fate of the Rev. Burgoyne" and questioned whether other ministers might now hesitate before they too considered taking action against powerful community groups.[12]

In 1952, Rev. Burgoyne offered support to former Hood River resident and veteran Sagie Nishioka when he challenged Oregon's Fair Employment Practices Act. Nishioka had been denied a position with the Oregon Tax Commission because "the public wouldn't approve dealing with a Japanese." Twelve ministers, including Burgoyne, sent a telegram to Governor Douglas McKay and two other state officials.[13] In a personal letter to Nishioka, the Burgoynes told him they had also rallied support from other congregations, including their own at Lents Methodist Church in Portland. "Your friends are all jumping in for you," they told him. After the governor released a statement that "no discrimination will be tolerated," Nishioka was hired as a junior accountant.[14]

Rev. Sherman Burgoyne served on the executive board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and held offices in a number of fraternal organizations, including the Masons. He died on February 4, 1964, in Yuma, Arizona.[15]

Authored by Linda Tamura

Related Articles

For More Information

Kitasako, John. "Methodist Minister Led Fight for Freedom in Hood River." Pacific Citizen, May 3, 1947, 5.

Neuberger, Richard L. "Hood River's Fighting Minister: No Reward for Valor." Pacific Citizen (reprinted from the Progressive, Madison, Wisconsin), Oct. 18, 1947, 1, 5.

Star, Everett James. "Jefferson Award is Presented Rev. Burgoyne for Fight on Behalf of Nisei on Coast." Pacific Citizen April 19, 1947, 1.

Tamura, Linda. The 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 Washington Press, 2012.

Footnotes

  1. John Kitasako, "Methodist Minister Led Fight for Freedom in Hood River," Pacific Citizen, May 3, 1947, 5, accessed on March 20, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19470503_005.jpg.
  2. "Official Supplement to the Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of the Methodist Church," Portland, Oregon: Oregon-Idaho Conference Office, 1964, 100C.
  3. The United States and Japan both followed the universal practice of conferring citizenship on children of their citizens even when born in foreign countries. Since the U.S. also issued citizenship to those born in this country, some Nisei held both American and Japanese citizenship. See Linda Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), 143.
  4. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence, 142-43.
  5. Hood River News, Jan. 5, 1945.
  6. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence, 149; W. Sherman Burgoyne, letter to The American Legion Post, Hood River, Oregon, Jan. 11, 1945, Post No. 22 files. In his letter, Burgoyne stated that by restoring names of the servicemen, "I believe Oregon and the World would accept it as a big act, and forget their feeling against us, and that matter would cease to cause heartache to all of us."
  7. Hood River News, Jan. 26, 1945, 10.
  8. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence, 170.
  9. Kitasako, "Methodist Minister Led Fight," 5.
  10. Everett James Star, "Jefferson Award is Presented Rev. Burgoyne for Fight on Behalf of Nisei on Coast," Pacific Citizen, April 19, 1947, 1, accessed on March 20, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19470419_001.jpg.
  11. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence, 191.
  12. Richard L. Neuberger, "Hood River's Fighting Minister: No Reward for Valor," Pacific Citizen (reprinted from the Progressive, Madison, Wisconsin), Oct. 18, 1947, 1, 5, accessed on March 20, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19471018_001.jpg and http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19471018_005.jpg.
  13. Sagie Nishioka Tax Commission File, Box 26, Oregon State Archives.
  14. Sagie Nishioka family files; Sagie Nishioka Tax Commission File, Box 26, Oregon State Archives.
  15. "Official Supplement to the Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of the Methodist Church," 1964, 100C.