Hugh Anderson

Name Hugh Anderson
Born 1912
Died 1999
Birth Location Pasadena, California

Born and raised in Pasadena, Hugh Harris Anderson was in the leadership of the Friends of the American Way organization that supported Japanese Americans during World War II. The group led by William Carr , Herbert Nicholson , and others paved the way for Esther Takei to return to Southern California in September of 1944.

Early Life and Career

Hugh Harris Anderson (1912–99) was born and raised in Pasadena, California. His father, Hugh S. Anderson, migrated after the Galveston flood, and his first job was as a laborer on the Colorado Street bridge. [1] He became the manager of Model Grocery, and young Hugh often helped out at the community store first at 60 W. Colorado, later at 250 E. Colorado. The younger Hugh grew up with his two sisters at 406 N. Mentor Ave. Between 1953 and 1958, Hugh would also become the manager of Model Grocery.

Hugh was an affable young man and a leader with Junior Lions, YMCA, X Club, Science Club, and was junior and senior class president. It was during these years that he came to know Dr. John Harbeson, president of Pasadena Junior College, and Dr. Robert Millikan, the controversial president of Cal Tech. [2] After Muir High and Pasadena Junior College, Anderson completed an Economics AB at Stanford in 1934. In 1934, he married Emalena May Richards (1913–2000) originally of Santa Ana. They had met at First Baptist Church when she came to Pasadena to visit her uncle. The couple had four children born between 1936 and 1944. Hugh wrote on his draft card that he was a "conscientious objector."

After college, Anderson got a job as an administrative assistant with the National Youth Administration and then as a field auditor for the State Controller's Office in the late 1930s. As the pressures of World War II escalated, the state had "concerns" and Hugh and others were assigned to audit the Japanese businesses in the state. Anderson's assignment was in Pasadena, and he came to know the grocery stores, auto parts stores, nurseries, etc. in his hometown. He said that the Japanese Americans were "great people" but "frightened after 1941". [3]

Japanese American Forced Removal and Incarceration

Japanese Americans in Pasadena were mostly removed in May to Tulare fairgrounds and then to Gila River . The Andersons stored neighbors' belongings in their garage and attic. Anderson gave his personal set of Encyclopedia Britannica to the Santa Anita Assembly Center for the Japanese Americans to use. He also went to see the editors of the Pasadena Star News and Pasadena Independent to protest their printing of derogatory words, to no avail. [4]

As Anderson was one of the early organizers of food cooperatives in Depression-era Pasadena, the War Relocation Authority asked him to serve as the assistant chief of community enterprises at Poston , Arizona, camp. Like in other camps, Anderson would be the white administrator to oversee the inmates' self-sustaining co-ops like hardware stores, hair salons, ice cream stores, clothing stores, and the like. For a community of 18,000 inmates, these were 12-hour days, six-days a week for Anderson. He said, "One of my functions was to provide cash for the community. I had to go to the bank in Phoenix, about 80 miles away, and pick up thousands of dollars in small change. I would have many bags of nickels and dimes in my car. I did this every week." [5] On one of his drives to Los Angeles to gain supplies, he met a man with 35 pounds of fresh barracuda packed in ice. Within two hours of his return to Poston the next morning, the Japanese Americans had finished all the sushi he gifted. [6]

Near April of 1943, Anderson contracted a near fatal case of polio. At his departure from Poston, the Japanese Americans collected $500 for his recovery, a substantial sum from inmates who earned $12 to $19/month.

Aiding Japanese American Returnees

Back in Pasadena, Anderson joined Friends of the American Way "in an effort to be decent for what we had done to them." [7] William Carr served as president, and Hugh Anderson was treasurer. Said Anderson, "It was a propaganda agency to offset the horrible thing that happened. To try and keep a little balance of society. You must remember that, at the time, there were a lot of rednecks that were overjoyed at the Japanese being locked up." [8]

The Friends of the American Way wrote letters to officials, to the press, and to the Japanese Americans. They lobbied when they could. They pooled their gas rations and delivered stored property to the imprisoned. Later, they helped Japanese Americans resettle, find housing and jobs, and begin to rebuild their lives.

In 1944, Friends of the American Way gained permission from General Charles Bonesteel to allow a "test case," 19-year old Esther Takei (1925–2019), to return to California. She lived with the Anderson family at 1976 N. Roosevelt, Altadena while enrolled at Pasadena Junior College. Anderson had known the Takeis before the war.

The initial plan was that Esther's return would be kept quiet. But "some yahoo let the cat out of the bag when she was arriving, and boy, the press was represented like you never saw." [9] As the Pasadena Independent printed the Andersons' address, Hugh said he had to "get rid of the family" for about ten days for fear of the number of threats. "We were threatened to have our house bombed. Our address was in the paper every day. We had a line of cars bumper to bumper." [10]

The news circulated not only through Pasadena and Los Angeles news agencies, but received national attention. "Ban the Jap" Committee, led by local resident George Kelly, fueled loud and boisterous resentment of Esther around Pasadena. According to Anderson, "there were probably several hundred phone calls and letters written to the Board of Education, the press, and a lesser number to the Chamber of Commerce, the General, and the President. The ministers in town took up the torch at our instigation and yesterday the subject was taken up and positively discussed from the pulpits of at least fifteen of the leading churches that we know of." [11]

Meanwhile, Esther's parents remained in Amache, Colorado, camp worrying. Esther's mother, Ninoe's letter to the Andersons in December read in part, "If I have wings, I will fly over there and talked to her [Esther] all about her present situation. After I read his letter [telling of Esther's predicaments], my eyes are wet and hands were shaking with a deep disappointment. I wrote her a letter right away and told her to behave. I can really imagine how much you folks are worring [sic] about her." [12] Esther stayed with the Andersons in Altadena for about a year until her parents were released.

The second Japanese American to return to Pasadena was Ko Yamaguchi, a 10-year old. His father had died of cancer at Manzanar , and Ko was sponsored to return to McKinley Junior High in Pasadena by Robert Emerson, a Quaker. [13] Dr. Emerson was a biochemist and botanist at Cal Tech trying to develop a substitute for tree rubber using guayule plants. This was a project supported by Dr. Robert Millikan. It was Anderson's task to deliver the guayule plants from Salinas to the Japanese American scientists at Manzanar camp working on propagation and extraction. [14] Anderson was also the messenger to the Cal Tech scientists.

Later Life

After the war, Friends of the American Way disbanded. In 1946, Anderson was president and general manager of Desert Rubber Inc. After he left Model Grocery in 1958, Anderson traveled to Malaysia and Australia to further explore guayule rubber possibilities. Anderson remained active in the Pasadena community. He joined the Quakers and helped establish Pacific Oaks College. He was also on the ACLU Board, Pasadena Asian Museum committee, Mishima Sister City committee, and the Democratic Club of Pasadena. [15] Hugh passed in 1999 and his wife, Emalena, passed in 2000 at Lake Forest, California.

Authored by Susie Ling

For More Information

Hugh Harris Anderson interview by Dr. Arthur Hansen, February 8, 1975 . Japanese American Oral History Project Collection, Cal State University Fullerton.

Hugh Harris Anderson interview by June L. Benton, July 28, 1982. Pasadena Oral History Project, Pasadena Heritage, Pasadena, California.


  1. Interview of Hugh Harris Anderson by June L. Benton on July 28, 1982 for the Pasadena Oral History Project, p. 1, transcripts viewed at Pasadena Heritage, Pasadena, California.
  2. Dr. John Wesley Harbeson (1908-62) was born in Iowa and received his B.A. from the University of Kansas, his M.A. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from USC in 1931. By 1920, he was a history teacher at Pasadena High School and then became the first dean at Pasadena Junior College. From 1927 to 1950, he served as principal. After Executive Order 9066, Harbeson held a convocation in hopes of supporting the Nisei students. In 1942, he welcomed Esther Takei to the campus.
  3. Interview of Hugh Harris Anderson by Dr. Arthur Hansen for the Japanese American Oral History Project Collection on February 8, 1975, Cal State University Fullerton, accessed on Sept. 3, 2022 at: .
  4. Hansen interview.
  5. Hansen interview.
  6. Benton interview, 41.
  7. Benton interview, 29.
  8. Benton interview, 29.
  9. Benton interview, 32.
  10. Benton interview, 33.
  11. Letter to Frank Kuwahara from Hugh Anderson dated September 25, 1944, Box 2 of "Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959," Pasadena Museum of History. Frank Kuwahara was in the wholesale flower industry and project leader of the guayule project at Poston camp.
  12. Letter to Hugh and Emalena Anderson from Ninoe Takei, dated December 1, 1944, Box 1 of "Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959," Pasadena Museum of History.
  13. "Two More Japs [sic] Return as Six Visit Los Angeles," newspaper clipping from unknown source and unknown date, Box 2, "Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959," Pasadena Museum of History.
  14. See Jonathan van Harmelen's "Guayule Project" in Densho Encyclopedia,
  15. Benton interview.

Last updated April 30, 2024, 3:09 a.m..