Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Mr. Elliot

  Among the touching artifacts archived relating to Japanese American incarceration during World War II are those relating to the interaction with teachers.   

LEFT: A letter posted from the Poston Arizona Relocation Center, May 1942, from Wintersburg goldfish farmer Harley Asari to Ray Elliott, then vice principal at Huntington Beach High School. (Image, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   The teachers knew their students, had watched them grow up, and knew their parents. In farm country, everyone knew each other's families and their histories. The virtual lifeline provided to the incarcerated by teachers helped keep Issei and Nisei connected with the outside world and focused on better days ahead.  

   In Orange County, we know of Anita Shepardson, Remembering Ma Shep, and Georgia Day Robertson, Orange County author and educator Georgia Day Robertson: Moved to write by her time in Poston,

   Add to that list Ray Elliott and teachers at Huntington Beach High School.

Huntington Beach High School
   Most of the Japanese community in Wintersburg, Talbert and the surrounding area attended Huntington Beach High School.  
   Known in its early years as  the "School on Wheels," Huntington Beach High School struggled in its early years to find a home.  First opening in Los Alamitos in 1903, the high school moved to Garden Grove in 1904, and then to Wintersburg in 1905.  Classes in Wintersburg were held in the armory building at the intersection of present-day Warner Avenue and Gothard Avenue.

   Writing in the mid 1950s about the school's history in Wintersburg, Raymond M. Elliott wrote, "although the enrollment was very small, Mr. Solomon introduced basketball. He induced the six boys in the school to participate in this sport and succeeded in defeating every other school with which the team competed."  

   Elliott started as a mathematics and history teacher at the high school in 1923, and was promoted to vice principal in 1929 and principal in 1945. (Note: the letters are addressed to "Mr. Elliot"; school records indicate it was "Elliott.")

RIGHT: The Sycamore Hall armory building was moved from Talbert (Fountain Valley) to Wintersburg and served as the Huntington Beach Union High School in 1905.  In 1904--the year the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission was founded--meetings were held in the armory to discuss building churches in Wintersburg.  Attendees at meetings in the building sat on celery crates. (Photo, Santa Ana Public Library)
   The high school was on the move again in 1906, settling into the basement of Huntington Beach's Methodist Auditorium until moving to their permanent home on Main Street in 1908.   Students from the rural countryside made their way to school in the back of a two-ton truck purchased by the HBUHSD, which also picked up students arriving by "electric car" from Newport Beach and Balboa.

   Huntington Beach High School rosters would include names of families known in Wintersburg, Talbert and Huntington BeachAsariFuruta, Kitajima, Masuda Tanamachi, Tashima, Tatsukawa.

The Asari family    
   Tsurumatsu "T.M." Asari is reported in oral histories as being the first Japanese to arrive in Orange County.  He is one of two Japanese in Wintersburg-Huntington Beach area to have bought land prior to the Alien Land Law of 1913, the other being Charles Mitsuji "C.M." Furuta 

   T.M. Asari owned his property by at least 1903, as there is a record of discussion in the City of Huntington Beach archives between Asari, as a landowner, and the Talbert Drainage District on January 1, 1904.  His property was on the north side of Wintersburg (now Warner) Avenue.  In addition to farming, Asari ran the Asari Market, later owned by the Tashima family.  

   Asari helped new Japanese immigrants establish themselves, hosting the Smeltzer Japanese Association meetings in the second floor of his market.  He also encouraged civic pride efforts, such as the Smeltzer Flying Company (The Smeltzer Flying Company,

   Asari also was one of Wintersburg's three goldfish farmers.  As a teenager, Harley Asari--born in Wintersburg in 1912--was already helping his father with the business (Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue,   

March 1942 and rumors
   Ellen McCarty mentions the Asari family and local goldfish farms in her 1999 Waves of Time column for the Huntington Beach Independent.  

   "On March 27, 1942, General DeWitt ordered all Japanese to be removed from Orange County.  The German and Italian immigrants were allowed to stay.  By the end of the week, all Japanese who had registered at Huntington Beach were loaded onto buses and sent to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona under military escort," writes McCarty.

Left: Letter from Attorney General Frances Biddle to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, stating many of the dangers cited in General John L. De Witt's final report on Japanese evacuation were "chimeric," April 12, 1944. (Image,

   One of the rumors reported in a California State University-Fullerton oral history conducted forty-four years ago in 1968 with Lee Chamness, Jr. relates to the local goldfish farmers.  Chamness was the son of a Huntington Beach city councilman who resigned office to become the town civilian defense coordinator and assisted the FBI arrest local Japanese, including those in Wintersburg. 

   "...during the outbreak of the war (Wintersburg) had a tremendous goldfish farm with ponds on the ground, and they were all covered with a netting," Chamness--10-years-old in 1942--told his interviewer, John Sprout.  His interview reflected childhood memories of adult conversations, rife with rumors of the time.

   "As it happened, all this netting that was covering these ponds were radio antennas," said Chamness"They had a communication setup with Japan that was unbeatable. They could really talk."

 "Two major fisheries owned by Japanese residents, Asari and the Orange County Fish Hatchery, were seized and searched," reported columnist McCarty decades later.  "Nothing suspicious was found, but the owners and many other Japanese lost their property and businesses during the war..."

   It is important to note that all three of Wintersburg's Japanese goldfish farmers returned after World War II confinement and none were ever charged or convicted of any wrongdoing. No Japanese American was ever convicted of acts against the United States, per Congressional findings of the 1980s.

ABOVE: An architectural rendering of the first Huntington Beach High School building on Main Street in 1908. (Image, Los Angeles Herald, April 5, 1908)

Finishing high school 
   By the time of evacuation in 1942, T.M. Asari was 71 years old and had been a U.S. resident for 42 years--over half his life.  Harley Asari, a Nisei, was 30 years old and would have known Ray Elliott from his high school years.  On a 1920 "Huntington Beach - Newport oil fields" map, there also is a notation of an Elliott owning land immediately adjacent to the Asari family on Wintersburg Avenue.

ABOVE: Harley Asari (#10), Toshiko Furuta (#31), and Lily Kikuchi (#33), the 6th and 7th grade of Oceanview Grammar School, Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue and Beach Boulevard, circa 1927.  (Photo courtesy of Douglas McIntosh) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    Ray Elliott had become vice principal of Huntington Beach High School and watched his Japanese American students--who he had known on an almost daily basis--leave for internment.  Huntington Beach High School administration and teachers worked with students so they could graduate.  
   Yoshiyuki Tashima, a Huntington Beach High School senior, recalled in his 1974 oral history interview with Pat Tashima for CSU Fullerton that his family had to evacuate one month before his high school graduation.  He "wrote to the principal of Huntington Beach High School (then McClelland G. Jones) to inquire about my graduating with the class, and he wrote back saying all I had to do was complete one course, and that was civics, and they asked me to write a paper on the relocation camp."
   "So I wrote that and turned it in and they gave me a passing grade," said Tashima, whose family owned the market in Wintersburg once owned by the Asari family.  "So I was able to get my diploma with my graduating class."

   Tashima also kept in touch with his family's neighbors, the Renfros, who he had known since second grade and considered "my second parents."  His friend and classmate Ed Renfro--a 1942 Huntington Beach High School graduate--went on to become a well-known artist and children's book illustrator, after serving in the air force in Germany during World War II.

   Kiyoko Tatsukawa, another Huntington Beach High School student, continued her studies at Poston and became a nurse's aid in the Poston Hospital in 1943.   The War Relocation Authority photographed her smiling in a nurse's uniform.

LEFT: Kiyoko Tatuskawa at Poston Arizona Relocation Center (Photo, War Relocation Authority) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Aiko Tanamachi Endo remembered in her 1983 interview for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project, that all the Japanese American children in her Seal Beach community attended Huntington Beach High SchoolEndo had to evacuate in her junior year.

   "...It was an enjoyable three years...high school was very pleasant because my parents encouraged us to participate in whatever activities we were interested in," Endo told her interviewer.  " After school, they had a girls' athletic association. I participated in and lettered in every sport, including basketball, baseball, and hockey. I had swimming in gym...I played on the tennis team. My brother also stayed after school for football and baseball but he broke his collarbone playing football, so my parents wouldn't let him play football any longer. Instead he helped with the coaching."

   Endo remembers one of her Huntington Beach High School teachers wanted to personally intervene to stop her evacuation.

   "...I can remember when we found out that we had to evacuate, how our Latin and algebra teacher, Miss Margaret Bliss--she was a dear soul--just thought it was terrible that we had to evacuate. So she said, 'I'm going to find out if I can keep you girls with me,'" Endo recalled.  Bliss was noted as a University of Minnesota graduate who had begun teaching at the high school in 1927.

   "There was another friend, Toyoko Kitajima, a Nisei, also. We both had about the same classes and we were both in her algebra and her Latin classes, so (Margaret Bliss) said, 'You girls shouldn't have to leave. I'm going to find out if I can keep you with me. I'll be responsible for you,'" continued Endo.  "She was a dear. We realized there was just no way. I told her I was sure that there was no way she could keep us." 

   Endo finished high school in the Poston Arizona Relocation Center

ABOVE: Another letter from Harley Asari to Ray Elliott, from the Poston Arizona Relocation Center in February 1943.  By then, Ray Elliott had provided his home address to Harley Asari.  In 1944, Harley was permitted to leave Poston on work furlough in Colorado. (Image M. Urashima. Courtesy  DK Enterprise, © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   The Asaris returned to their property and goldfish farm in Wintersburg after the war.  Like the Furutas and the Akiyamas, the Asaris found their ponds in poor condition, filled with weeds and silt.  They started over and recovered the ponds, operating a hatchery business well after Wintersburg was annexed into Huntington Beach in 1957-1958.
   Ray Elliott went on to become principal of Huntington Beach High School, then superintendent of the Huntington Beach Union High School District, and helped advocate for the creation of Orange Coast College.

   The contents of the letters from Harley Asari to Ray Elliott are unknown.  What we do know is that Elliott was among the educators that represented comfort and support for those far from their Orange County home.


 A note of thanks

When Dick Keiser of Silverdale, Washington, heard the story behind the envelope (left)---that it was one of Historic Wintersburg's goldfish farmers writing from internment to a Huntington Beach High School principal ---he generously donated the envelope to Historic Wintersburg.   This artifact is now back home in Huntington Beach, awaiting future historical exhibition. (Image, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Special thanks to Dick Keiser, DK Enterprise, Silverdale, Washington.

© All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fanny Bixby Spencer: Living outside of the lines

ABOVE: Suffragettes march in Washington, D.C. circa 1910.  California women gained the right to vote in 1911, nine years before the 19th Amendment granted the vote to all American women.  (Photo, Library of Congress)

~Updated October 2017

   Two weeks before she passed away in 1988, Kamea "Kay" Okamoto Omata wrote to Clarence Nishizu that she wanted to write about Fanny Bixby Spencer, her adopted mother and a member of one of Southern California's most prominent families.  

   "I am writing her story,"Omata told Nishizu, who carefully noted the exchange in his 1982 oral history with Arthur A. Hansen, for California State University Fullerton's Japanese American Oral History Project, "and I think that I would like to call it 'A Hippie Before Her Time.' "  Nishizu recalled an obituary in the Long Beach Press Telegram about Fanny Bixby, describing her as "a woman who, though she could have enjoyed the luxuries of life, chose to devote her energies to the betterment of mankind."

LEFT: Fanny Bixby Spencer, circa 1909-1910. (Photograph, Los Angeles Magazine, March 12 , 2103)

   At her passing in 1930, Fanny Bixby had touched the lives of many Japanese immigrants, including those leasing land from the Bixby family and those in Wintersburg.   In oral histories for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project, Bixby is remembered with affection.

   Nevertheless, Fanny Bixby scared people.    
      She was too outspoken, too radical in her beliefs, too much of a coloring-outside-of-the-lines kind of woman.  A wealthy philanthropist, suffragette, socialist, playwright, poet and pacifist, she reportedly was threatened with tar and feathers, blacklisted during World War I, and shunned from the high society she in which she was raised.
The seaside residence of Fanny Bixby's father, Jotham Bixby, in Long Beach.  (Photo, University of Southern California, California Historical Society, circa 1910)  
A socialite's life
   Fanny was the daughter of one of California's richest men, Jotham Bixby, and his wife, Margaret Hathaway Bixby.  Jotham Bixby and his cousins acquired the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos,  17,000 acres in Rancho Palos Verdes and a third interest in Rancho Los Alamitos of 29,000 acres.  As an individual, he purchased 7,000 acres in the Ranchos Santiago de Santa Ana.  

   Jotham Bixby was president of the Bixby Land Company, the Palos Verdes Company, the Jotham Bixby Company, vice president of the Alamitos Land Company, the Alamitos Water Company, president of the Chino Valley Cattle Company of Arizona, president of the National Bank of Long Beach and vice president of the Long Beach Savings Bank & Trust Company.  He was money.

   In the 1932 California and Californians (Vol. IV, The Lewis Publishing Company), it was noted "today in Southern California are hundreds of thousands of home and property owners whose chain of title runs through holdings once owned by Jotham Bixby."

LEFT: Fanny Bixby showed an early tendency to compete, as noted in this 1898 society page blurb about activities at the shore.  (Herald, Aug. 14, 1898)

An ideal childhood
   Born in 1879 in Rancho Los Cerritos (the present-day Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach, California), Fanny Bixby attended the prestigious Marlborough School in Los Angeles, the Pomona Preparatory School and Wellesley College.  

   There is evidence the extended Bixby family made a visit from their Rancho Los Cerritos home to Gospel Swamp (the willows-covered peatland of Wintersburg Village, the future Huntington Beach Township, and Talbert).  

ABOVE: Sheep dipping at the Bixby Ranch, the childhood home of Fanny Bixby, circa 1901.  The man at the center is reportedly Jotham Bixby.  (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

   In her 1926 book, Adobe Days, A Book of California Memories, Fanny's cousin Sarah Bixby-Smith, describes a late 1800s Sunday afternoon, "We had all been over to camp-meeting at Gospel Swamp, not that we were much addicted to camp-meeting, but it was the only available service within reach, and of course we had to go to church on Sunday. We sat on wooden benches in the dust under the willows, not an altogether unpleasant change from the usual pew, at least for the children..."

   "But Uncle Jotham had a more exciting aftermath," writes Bixby-Smith.  "He and Papa and I were reading in the parlor after dinner when suddenly he gave a tremendous jump and ran upstairs three steps at a time, where we soon heard a great noise of tramping.  In a minute or two he came down with a dead lizard almost a foot long spread on his New York Tri-weekly Tribune. Evidently it had mounted his bootleg over at camp-meeting and lain dormant for a couple of hours before attempting further explorations. The first jump came when the little feet struck my uncle's knee, harmless, but uncanny."

   Fanny Bixby gave her father, Jotham, a bigger scare by devoting the majority of her inheritance to social efforts.  He put her on an allowance.  

LEFT: Fanny Bixby worked with the juvenile court and was known for helping young newsboys, many of them Russian immigrants.  Willis Rhodes, the young man charged with robbing Bixby in 1907 after she had befriended him, did not "keep out of trouble" and later violated his probation.  (Image, Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 7, 1907)
Fanny get your gun
   In January 1908,  Long Beach's first appointed police chief, Thomas W. Williams, "did something which resulted in the Chief being 'swamped' with inquires about what was then considered a “shaky experiment," reported the Long Beach Police Officers Association, Rap Sheet (2008).  

   "Chief Williams appointed Fanny Bixby daughter of Jotham and Margaret Bixby, a 'Special Police Officer' for the City of Long Beach. The young woman who had been born on the Los Cerritos sheep ranch in 1879 had become a Long Beach Police Officer."

ABOVE: Fanny Bixby was the first woman to serve with the Long Beach police department, circa 1909.  Eight years later, the Long Beach police opposed the community hosting a conference for the Christian Pacifists, of which Fanny Bixby was a member.  (What was Fanny Bixby Really Like?, Independent Press Telegram, August 22, 1965)

   The daily newspapers regularly had articles about Fanny Bixby being called to the scene to help with a destitute woman, a suicide attempt, or an orphaned child.

   "The idea of having a woman on the force was a new one.” Williams is reported as explaining, “It occurred to me that such a plan would be feasible and Mrs. Spencer, then Miss Bixby, was willing to serve in that capacity. The idea was soon taken up by metropolitan cities all over the country.”

   The Los Angeles Herald wrote in 1909, "California, which gives an example to the rest of the country and to the world in many respects, is now demonstrating that when necessary a woman can become a policeman, or should we say policewoman?  Miss Fanny Bixby, deputy of a Long Beach constable, has been sworn into office and is wearing her special policeman's star."

RIGHT: Fanny Bixby receives "Policeman's Star" as a deputy constable in 1909, which the Los Angeles Times captioned as a "rich girl's office". (Policeman's Star for Fannie Bixby, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1909)

   The Herald continued, "Deputy Constable Fannie Bixby is wealthy, but...does not see in the possession of money merely an incentive to lead a useless or society butterfly life.  She believes the possessors of the world's wealth should be the doers of the world's work."

   "It is believed several young men of a set which is called fashionable are shivering in their shoes since Miss Bixby came to Los Angeles for her star..." waxed the Herald.  "With a few fearless missionaries like Miss Bixby actively at work, society would soon be reformed."

ABOVE: The Egan Theater--today the Musart Theater--on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, where Fanny Bixby's play, The Jazz of Patiotism, debuted in 1928.  (Photo, Historic Los Angeles Theaters, circa 1949)

Becoming an activist
    By 1921, the tide had turned and Fanny Bixby was called unpatiotic, a socialist, and a radical. Having spent time in social and suffragette work in the East Coast and in San Francisco, Bixby built the Settlement House in Los Angeles, was aiding Russian newsboys, and financially supported the Walt Whitman School, providing aid and education to immigrants.

   She had written an anti-war play the previous year in 1920, The Jazz of Patriotism, in which the protagonist refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Not exactly a popular theme for a country recovering from World War I.

   In 1921, Bixby is listed as being on the national board of The League for Industrial Democracy--the successor for the Intercollegiate Socialist Society--which stated its object as being: "education for a new social order based on production for use and not for profit."
LEFT: A flyer for the opening of the Walt Whitman School in Los Angeles, "the first proletarian day school in the West," for which Fanny Bixby was a benefactress.  (Image, Southern California Architectural History, Feb. 29, 1920)  

    The Southern California Architectural History blog notes:  "Fanny maintained a lifelong opposition to any aspect of militarism evidenced by her threat to sue over the City of Long Beach granting a permit for a ROTC training camp in a city park for which the Bixby family's Alamitos Land Company had donated the land. She also filed a protest with the State Superintendent of Schools against the practice of saluting the flag on the grounds that 'it was an act of applied war" and on religious grounds' as a form of idol worship." 

    Bixby had gotten the ire of some in Long Beach when she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in an earlier incident. She and the Reverend Francis Watry were investigated by a Long Beach Chamber of Commerce "committee of three on patriotism to reason with persons guilty of disloyal attitude and try to induce them to change their views or keep still..."  

RIGHT: Fanny Bixby had served as Long Beach's first female police officer by the time she was "criticized" for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance in 1917. In typical Fanny Bixby fashion, she was blunt about her anti-war position. (Rev. F. Watry is pivot of gale in church at Long Beach, Santa Ana Register, June 15, 1917)

   Long Beach Unitarian Church officers ended up voting on whether or not to retain Reverend Watry.  He was reported by the Santa Ana Register as having been retained by a vote of 17 to 15 "followed by a stormy scene".

   Fanny Bixby never changed her position regarding the Pledge of Allegiance.  She doubled down.  By 1925, she had taken on the state superintendent of public instruction about the requirement that children sing the Star Spangled Banner. The Santa Ana Register described Bixby as "well known social worker" that has "been associated with Upton Sinclair in many of his activities".   To quote author Laurel Ulrich, "well behaved women seldom make history."

ABOVE: Fanny Bixby with her husband, Carl Spencer, on a trip to San Quentin to "visit a socialist friend" in 1923.  They camped along the way.  She is described as being free with her money to help others, but not extravagant with herself, preferring plain clothing and a simple lifestyle. (Miss Fanny, Tolstoy, 31 Goats, and Me, Martin Volkoff, Independent Press Telegram, January 24, 1971)

Touching lives  
    After marrying W. Carl Spencer in 1918--a dock worker she met at a union meeting--Bixby moved to Costa Mesa (then known as Harper).  She took in Japanese, Mexican, Russian immigrant children at her Marina Vista Ranch home, the farm she and Carl Spencer owned in the area of Whittier Avenue.  

ABOVE:  Bixby was a prolific letter writer to the Santa Ana Register, sharing her opinions on County and world issues.  In the above letter, she is chastizing the school board for considering a prohibition on theological discussion in the philosophy department of the Santa Ana Junior College.  (Santa Ana Register, January 23, 1925)

   Bixby is reported as being generous to the community, donating land for the Costa Mesa Apple Growers clubhouse, Costa Mesa Women's Club, and other community projects.  To establish a library, she procured a building, donated her father, Jotham's Bixby's extensive book collection, arranged for utilities and paid for a librarian.

   In his 1982 oral history interview with Arthur A. Hansen (updated in 1988), Clarence Nishizu recalls Tosh Ikeda telling him about Fanny Bixby Spencer.

   Ikeda said, "I vaguely remember that I was only four years old when Mr. and Mrs. Spencer used to walk around the Japanese neighborhood and talk to the people there. Then one day they came into our house and talked to my mother. They wanted to meet and help people, especially the Japanese poor people." 

ABOVE: Fanny Bixby's post World War I play, The Jazz of Patiotism, was still showing in 1928, eight years after she had written it and two years before her death. (Los  Angeles Times, November 12, 1928)

   Ikeda's family was invited to live in one of the Fanny Bixby Spencer houses for free. 

   "One year there was excessive rain," Ikeda told Nishizu, "and the house we lived in was built on a low ground and the house was flooded. As a result of this, my younger brother died from pneumonia. Immediately Mrs. Spencer built another house on a higher ground where we were allowed to move into.” 

   Nishizu recalled, "...the Spencers became active in civic affairs, donating their time and money to help poor children pay for their school lunches. Fanny donated land for a woman's club building and helped finance the cost of maintaining the city library by buying thousands of dollars worth of books and even paying for the librarian's salary."

   "She was an activist who helped extremely poor people," explained Nishizu,  "On one occasion she even paid for the cost of sending a woman to India to meet Mahatma Gandhi."

    Fanny Bixby and Carl Spencer took in over a dozen children of various nationalities, helped numerous local families, and paid for college educations.  When she died in 1930, she reportedly left small token amounts to her relatives, leaving land and the remainder of her $2.5-million-plus fortune to her adopted children, local families, and charities, including land for a park in Newport Beach and a library in Costa Mesa.

ABOVE: The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission at the time of Fanny Bixby's death in 1930.  A parcel of land she left to Tosh Ikdeda was used for a language school supported by the Mission. (Photo circa 1930, courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Wintersburg Village
   Tosh Ikeda was notified Bixby left him three acres off Whittier Avenue in Costa Mesa.  He offered part of it for a Japanese language school organized, supported and attended by elders and congregants of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission.  

   One of the teachers was Shuji Kanno, an elder with the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and father of James Kanno, Fountain Valley's first mayor and the first Nisei mayor in the continental United States (who also attended the school).  Wintersburg Japanese Mission's Reverend Kenji Kikuchi remembers "we taught the children (at the Costa Mesa school) without any payment because their parents couldn't raise money for the tuition fee."  The Japanese language schools in Harper (Costa Mesa) and Talbert (Fountain Valley) were supported as an outreach effort by the Mission.

   After World War II, Ikeda's property--once again, the legacy of Fanny Bixby--was used as temporary housing for Japanese Americans returning from incarceration.  One of the returning Japanese Americans who stayed there was Kimio Tamura, brother of future California Supreme Court Justice Stephen K. Tamura, both congregants of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission.

   Kamea "Kay" Okamoto Omata received an education and property from Fanny Bixby Spencer, as well as a childhood.  She wrote about Bixby in her 1988 letter to Clarence Nishizu, a Wintersburg Japanese Mission congregant.

    "Since I was eight years old I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Carl Spencer," remembered Omata.  "Mrs. Fanny Bixby Spencer was a great philanthropist and helped many ethnic people. She was an internationalist, a conscientious objector of World War I. She was the first policewoman of L.A. County. She helped the White Russian newsboys and even rented a place for the boys on cold nights to come in to get warm. She helped a Black school in Mississippi called the Piney Woods School."

LEFT: The Los Angeles Times reported in 1988 that Bixby had been "almost tarred and feathered" for her stance regarding the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem during World War I and following years. She wore it like a badge for the rest of her life. (The Eccentric One, Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1988)

   "When the Alien Land Law was passed, she thought that it was a bad law because it affected the East Indians, Chinese, Filipinos and Japanese," Omata wrote. "Mr. and Mrs. Spencer did not have any children. They raised and educated thirteen different children of many nationalities. I was the last."

   Bixby sent Omata to church--even though she herself did not attend--and insisted the children learn about their cultural heritage.

   "She left properties to all. Since I had very little connection with the Japanese language, she left in her will that I spend some time in Japan to learn the language and culture of the land of my ancestors," explained Omata.  "I could not truthfully say that she aided only the Japanese people because she helped all nationalities. She was an unusual lady in that she was a wealthy woman but gave all her money for causes that she believed in." 

RIGHT: A poem published in the Santa Ana Register the same year Fanny Bixby is listed as a contributing author and artist for The Messenger, The World's Greatest Negro Monthly, with the poet Langston Hughes.  As much as she stirred up people with her opinions, Bixby was clear in her love of the diversity of humanity and adopted over a dozen children from different regions of the world, permanently changing the course of their lives. Her generosity to those around her was often noted when Bixby was criticized, including the fact she shared flowers she received during her last days alive in a Los Angeles hospital. (My Native Land, a poem by Fanny Bixby Spencer, Santa Ana Register, March 17, 1924)
 Three lines of work
    At the end, Fanny Bixby Spencer appears to have made peace with her self-proclaimed banishment from society, while remaining steadfast to her beliefs.  

   The Santa Ana Register reported at the time of her death on March 31, 1930 at age 50, that Bixby had received "both commendation and condemnation" for her social work and political opinions. She requested no flowers at her funeral, "except simple wildflowers and garden blossoms, such as little children may pick for me."

   Two years before her death, Fanny Bixby wrote to her cousin, Sarah Bixby Smith, about how her early activism changed her life, "Since I have been a social outcast, clubs, like churches, are not in my sphere.  I have three lines of work, bringing up my foster children, helping my neighbors (mostly Japanese farmers) and banging my head against the stone wall of militarism and conservatism that hems me in."

© All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Honorable Stephen K. Tamura: Lawyer, Judge, Wintersburg Mission congregant

LEFT: The first Japanese American appellate judge in the continental U.S. and Orange County's first Japanese attorney, Justice Stephen Kosako Tamura (1911-1982), one of the "Sunday school boys" at the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.  (Photo, Japanese American Bar Association)    

   Many of the oral histories of early Wintersburg residents excerpted on the Historic Wintersburg blog were part of a larger effort during the late 1960s to 1980s to capture the memories of Orange County's Japanese American community.  

   The Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project* was named for Stephen Kosako Tamura "in recognition of his rise from roots in the local Japanese American community to appointment, in 1966, as the first Japanese American appellate judge in the continental United States."

   Stephen K. Tamura  also was a congregant of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission during his childhood.  Tamura was remembered, along with other notable Wintersburg congregants, by Reverend Kenji Kikuchi in his 1981 oral history interview for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project as one of "my Sunday school boys."

ABOVE: "The only attorney listed in 1940 Japanese American directories for Orange County," Stephen Kosaku Tamura opened his first law office at 202 E. Fourth Street, Santa Ana, in 1938. (Notation and photo, Preserving California's Japantowns,

The path to legal eagle
   Stephen K. Tamura first attended Pomona College, then the University of California- Berkeley, and finally Harvard University School of Law.  He was the first Asian American attorney in Orange County, opening his practice in 1938 and later serving as Superior Court Judge.  His law office building at 202 E. Fourth Street, Santa Ana, California, stands today.

   The law office building was listed as a historical structure by the Bower's Museum Japanese American Council's Historic Building Survey in 1986, and more recently by Preserving California's Japantowns.

   While the Tamura family was interned in 1942 at the Poston Arizona Relocation Center during World War II, Tamura was permitted by the War Relocation Authority to study at Harvard School of Law in 1943.  He enlisted in the Army in 1945, serving in Italy with the all-Nisei "Go for Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

ABOVE: The future Justice Tamura, far left.  From the War Relocation Authority files: "Legal staff at Poston Camp No. 1. These are all lawyers, and Mr. Kido is National President of the J.A.C.L. (L to R) Cap Tamura, Franklyn Sugijama, Tom Masuda, Elmer Yamamoto, Saburo Kido." (Photographer: Stewart, Francis, Poston, Arizona, January 4, 1943)

   In 1956, Tamura acted as Deputy County Counsel representing Orange Coast College in Orange Coast Junior College District of Orange County v. Henry Clinton St. John (  St. John, a teacher, was charged with not signing a loyalty oath regarding non affiliation with the Communist party as required then by the Education Code.  

   Tamura would have recognized the unsettling irony in a loyalty oath.   As relayed by Densho, The Japanese American Legacy Project, "In February 1943, the U.S. War Department and the War Relocation Authority decided to test the loyalty of all people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in the WRA camps. They required all those 17 years of age and older to answer a questionnaire that became known as the 'loyalty questionnaire.' Their answers would be used to decide whether they were loyal or disloyal to the United States."

    In 1961, Governor Pat Brown appointed Tamura to the Orange County Superior Court, during which time he heard the highly contentious case in 1964 in which county supervisors blocked incorporation of the City of Yorba Linda.

   Justice Tamura was the first Japanese American and first Asian American to sit on the California Court of Appeal in 1966, and also served as Justice Pro Tem on the California Supreme Court until his retirement.  He then served as a member of the California Judicial Council from 1979 to 1981.  Justice Tamura passed away in 1982, after which the oral history project was named in his honor.

   In addition to his 43 years in the law, Tamura was a founding board member of the Orange County Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles.

   Fellow Appellate Court Justice John G. Gabbert, referring to him by his nickname, "Captain Tamura," during his during his interview for the California Appellate Court Legacy Project, said Tamura was "the most interesting fellow..." and "a very able guy and a wonderful personality and a great fellow to talk to...

A career interrupted
   Before enlisting in 1945 in the U.S. Army, Tamura and his wife are listed at the Granada War Relocation Center (also known as Camp Amache, in Colorado) before leaving in 1943 for Harvard School of Law.  The War Relocation Authority (WRA) documented, for public relations purposes, relocated Japanese Americans in often awkwardly staged settings. 

   The WRA reported "Mr. Tamura is a lawyer by profession, a member of the California bar, and had a private practice at Santa Ana, California. He received his education at Pomona College, and LL.B. from the University of California. At Granada he was employed in the project attorney's office. Mrs. Tamura is a graduate of the University of California and at Granada, she worked as librarian. Mr. and Mrs. Tamura arrived at Boston in October, 1943. 

   Mr. Tamura enrolled for graduate work at Harvard University and has carried on some research work in addition to his regular studies. Mrs. Tamura is employed at the law library in Harvard University. Inasmuch as both are busy throughout the day they have made their home at 32 Braddock Park, Boston, a boarding house with a fine reputation of Japanese and American cooking."

ABOVE: From the War Relocation Authority files: "Mr. and Mrs. Kosaku Steven (sic) Tamura (Granada) at the famous Minute Man statue on the battlefield at Concord, Mass., where the shot was fired that was heard 'round the world." (Photographer Hikaru Iwasaki, August 1944)

ABOVE: From the War Relocation Authority files: "Mr. and Mrs. Kosaku Steven (sic) Tamura (Granada), Ben Yashikawa (Tule), and Tsetsu Morita (Minidoka) at the Concord River where the Minute Men stopped in British April 19, 1775."  The WRA indicated their respective internment camps in parenthesis, including Tule Lake in northern California and Minidoka in Idaho. (Photographer Hikaru Iwasaki, August 1944)

ABOVE: From the War Relocation Authority files: "Mr. and Mrs. Kosaku Steven (sic) Tamura (Granada), Ben Yashikawa (Tule), and Tsetsu Morita (Minidoka) at the famous bridge of the Revolutionary battlefield at Concord, Mass."(Photographer Hikaru Iwasaki, August 1944)

The Tamura family
    Stephen Tamura's father, Hisamatsu Tamura, was remembered by another Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregant, Clarence Nishizu, in his 1982 oral history interview for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project as one of "the original Talbert (Fountain Valley) pioneer Issei who first moved into this area to farm various vegetable crops and they were the ones who, with the future in mind, purchased the land in Talbert to build the Japanese language school."   

ABOVE: Six-horse team hauling hay in Talbert (present day Fountain Valley).  (Photo courtesy of Orange County Archives)

   Hisamatsu Tamura--along with fellow farmer Isojiro Oka and other Issei--purchased "an old Standard Oil Company wooden building" to serve as the school and an old house to serve as the teacher's residence, moving both buildings to the school site.  

   Orange County pioneers Hisamatsu Tamura and Isajiro Oka's efforts to provide children's education is honored today: the Isojiro Oka Elementary School in Huntington Beach and the Hisamatsu Tamura Elementary School in Fountain Valley

   Hisamatsu Tamura also served as president of the Smeltzer Japanese Association (Smeltzer is part of present-day Huntington Beach), as had Charles Mitsuji Furuta (Historic Wintersburg's Furuta farm), Gunjiro Tajima (Junjiro Tashima, Wintersburg's Tashima Market), and Charles Kyutaro Ishii (an elder with the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission).

   Although Tamura's brother, Noboru, was the eldest, he stayed working the family farm in Talbert in order to fund Stephen's early college education.  For the Issei and Nisei, it was simply understood they would make a commitment for the next generation in the spirit of "kodomo no tame ni" or, "for the sake of the children."

   In his blog, My Visit to Manzanar - My journey to Japanese America and more, Taka Go explains "it is important to describe that...a sense of collectivism among a family was integral for Japanese American families and communities, and it meant that the Tamura family supported Judge Tamura to achieve his goal....In other words, filial piety toward their family was considered very important, and parents supported their son well. Then, the sons supported their grandsons well."

   When questioned about their experience, many Nisei talk about their belief in their country and their focus on the future, which gave them strength to endure.  It can be difficult for younger generations to understand, looking back today at the clear civil liberties issues faced by Issei and Nisei.

   During his 1971 oral history interview for the then California State College, Fullerton, Japanese American Oral History Project, Newport Beach resident Mas Ueysugi explained to his interviewer John McFarlane.

    "...the Sansei and the Yonsei question us and they bombard us with these things. You know: 'Why? Why didn't you resist the evacuation? If we went through the same process now, would we accept it?' Sure, hypothetically we can say this, and we can say that. Or if you get in a position where a person points a gun at you, or you point a gun at them, you can certainly rationalize and say things now, but you don't know what your reaction will be at the time when something happens for real,"  said Ueysugi.  

   "So the only rebuttal that I have for our children is that they'll have to make their own decisions. We all have to make decisions, small or large, every day of our lives...Decisions are not always something so catastrophical as the evacuation. We tell them, "Well, these are things that were accomplished through perseverance and tenacity..."

   Ueysugi pointed to Justice Tamura as an example.

   "Our Justice Stephen K. Tamura, he recalls when he was refused entry to a public pool; in fact, they asked for his birth certificate when he tried to enter the swimming pool here at Memorial Park--who carries a certificate to a pool--or he had to sit up in the balcony--Is this possible? In Orange County?--here at West Coast Theatre," recalled Ueysugi.  "People remember these things. Despite that, he has excelled because of his excellence."

 *The Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project was cosponsored by the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, Japanese American Council and California State University, Fullerton, Oral History Program, Japanese American Project.

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