Join Densho for an inspiring evening of community, remembrance and solidarity! The Densho Dinner @ Home online event will be held on Saturday, October 24 at 5pm PDT. Registration is free — more details at: bit.ly/DenshoDinner2020

Gannon Committee

The Gannon Committee was the name given to the California State Assembly Committee on the Japanese Problem led by State Assemblyman Chester Gannon of Sacramento. Both the Tenney and Gannon Committees supported white supremacist organizations and shared goals of barring Japanese Americans from returning to the West Coast. Unlike the Tenney Committee, which also investigated communist activity, the Gannon committee was the only State Congressional Committee tasked with investigating the "Japanese question."

Born in rural Truckee, California, and a veteran of World War I, Chester Gannon was elected to the California State Assembly in 1936 for Assembly District #8 of Sacramento. Initially winning as a Democrat in 1936, he switched party affiliations to join the Republican majority of California in 1940. [1] Gannon was also elected in a historically anti-Japanese district; among his constituents, journalist V.S. McClatchy of the Sacramento Bee regularly espoused anti-Japanese sentiment and lobbied for Japanese exclusion in Congress.

The Gannon Committee was adopted under House Resolution #238, which passed the California House on May 5, 1943. Convening for the first time on August 3, 1943, the committee sought to "investigate, ascertain, and appraise all facts concerning the solution of the problem of the Japanese in California" in the postwar period. [2] Following the lead of the Tenney Committee, it adopted a resolution that all Japanese Americans should remain in camps for the duration of the war. At a later meeting in Santa Maria, California, the committee met with local agriculture leaders that declared Japanese Americans were unwanted and "unnecessary to the economy of the State." [3]

While the Tenney committee focused its accusations on the War Relocation Authority , the Gannon Committee became famous for targeting public allies of the Japanese American community. In December, 1943, the Gannon Committee convened hearings in Los Angeles to investigate the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play for treasonous activity. An advocacy group for the rights of Japanese Americans, members of the Fair Play Committee included UC Berkeley President Robert Sproul, Stanford University President Ray Lyman Wilbur, and Cal Tech President Robert Millikan.

The hearings were marred with controversy from the beginning. ACLU lawyer A.L. Wirin was barred from testifying because Gannon viewed their organization as too pro-Japanese, and claimed "we know enough about your organization already." When Robert Millikan sent his lawyer a statement to present before the Gannon Committee, Representative Gannon asked to be told who Robert Millikan was. The height of the hearings, though, came with the testimony of Maynard Thayer, a sponsor of the Fair Play Committee. During her statement in favor of supporting returning Japanese Americans, Gannon accused her of not knowing the Bill of Rights and claimed: "you don't know anything about the habits and morals of Japs in California. Mrs. Thayer, have you ever smelled the odor of a Jap home?" [4]

Carey McWilliams , the author of Prejudice and member of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, wrote that Gannon's behavior during the hearings were so outrageous that the Los Angeles Times —then an anti-Japanese newspaper—headlined their report on the testimony as "Legislative Committees Should Not Be Bullies." In a foreshadowing of the McCarthy Era, the Times called the Gannon Committee "a witch-burning agency." [5] In personal correspondence with an angered attendee of the hearings, California State Speaker of the House Charles Lyon apologized for the conduct of Gannon and would "urge that there be no reoccurrence of the sort of conduct." [6]

By 1944, the activities of the Gannon Committee were minimized. The last mention of Gannon's anti-Japanese rants was in late September 1944, when he voiced his opposition to Esther Takei entering Pasadena Junior College. [7] According to historian Kevin Allen Leonard, Gannon's brutish treatment of witnesses during the Los Angeles hearings worked against anti-Japanese sentiment by portraying racism as illogical. Negative response in the Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine led many to see "the increasingly shrill arguments of anti-Japanese leaders as illogical and outlandish," and drew parallels with the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Nazis. [8] Chester Gannon's career in the State Assembly ended shortly after the war in 1948. While the Gannon Committee's actions did not lead to a decline in anti-Japanese sentiment on the West Coast, it highlighted the limits to which Californians tolerated blatant race-baiting.

In an ironic twist, Chester Gannon changed his tune in support of Japanese Americans in 1947, when he spoke out against the passage of a state appropriations bill that continued enforcement of the Alien Land Law . Stating that Japanese Americans had "more than proven their loyalty during the war" and admitting his wrongdoing, Gannon stood against the majority of his anti-Japanese constituents. Twenty years later, his actions were lauded in the 1967 holiday issue of the Pacific Citizen , labeling his bravery as a first step towards the final death of the Alien Land Law in 1952. [9]

Authored by Jonathan van Harmelen , UC Santa Cruz

For More Information

Kitayama, Glen. "Gannon Committee." From Japanese American History, An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present . New York: Facts on File, 1993. 144.

Leonard, Kevin Allen. The Battle for Los Angeles: Racial Ideology and World War II . Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

McWilliams, Carey. Prejudice; Japanese-Americans: Symbol of Racial Intolerance . Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1944.

Wollenberg, Charles M. "'Dear Earl'" The Fair Play Committee, Earl Warren, and Japanese Internment." California History 89.4 (2012): 24–33, 38–55, 57–60.

Footnotes

  1. "Chester Gannon," JoinCalifornia: Election History of the State of California , updated January 2020, https://www.joincalifornia.com/candidate/5509 .
  2. "California Legislative Study," Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Survey papers, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder T 1.52, Bancroft Library, 3.
  3. "California Legislative Study," 5.
  4. "California Legislative Study," 4.
  5. Carey McWilliams, Prejudice; Japanese-Americans : Symbol of Racial Intolerance (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1944), 260.
  6. "Letter from Charles Lyon to Mrs. Gale Seamen," Dec. 27, 1943, Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Survey papers, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder T 1.50, 12.
  7. "Gannon Assails Groups Trying to Return Japanese," Sacramento Bee , Sept. 30, 1944.
  8. Kevin Allen Leonard, The Battle for Los Angeles : Racial Ideology and World War II (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), 232.
  9. "Assemblyman Gannon - The Man of the Hour," Pacific Citizen , Special Holiday Issue, 1967.

Last updated Oct. 8, 2020, 3:02 p.m..