The Real Americans of World War II: Friends of the American Way

By Susie Ling. Posted June 1, 2023.

“In the 1960’s at McKinley Junior High, kids would start fights with me because of what my father and my grandfather were doing,” said Christopher Carr. “When I became an officer for the Pasadena Police Department in the 1970s, Japanese Americans would stare at my name tag. When I confirmed that I was the grandson of William C. Carr, I had a hard time getting out of their homes as they showered me with kindness.”[1] William C. Carr was founder and president of Friends of the American Way, a group of near 160 in the Pasadena area who supported Japanese Americans in World War II.

From left: Richard Carr, Pamela Carr, Margaret Carr (widow of pilot William George Carr, 1920-1957), Christopher Carr, William C. Carr (1890-1978), Beatrice M. Park Carr, Virginia Ruth Knight Carr, Peter Carr, John Ross Carr, Sara Carr. Pasadena, 1968. (From the collection of John Carr)

The courage and integrity of Friends of the American Way was in contrast to the intensity of the anti-Asian hate movement of the 1940s. The press, community leaders, and government officials were fervent in blaming Americans of Japanese descent for the attack on Pearl Harbor. On 16 April 1943, the head of the Western Defense Command, Lt. General John DeWitt, said, “A Jap is a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is a citizen or not.” California Attorney General Earl Warren – while running for the gubernatorial race – predicted military threats that never materialized. In editorial after editorial, Harry Chandler’s Los Angeles Times and William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner called for the removal of all Japanese from the West Coast. In 2017, the Los Angeles Timesadmitted, “We exaggerated the severity of the threat while failing to acknowledge the revoking of the most fundamental rights of American citizens based solely on their ancestry.”[2]

Fletcher Bowron, Los Angeles mayor from 1938 to 1953, used his radio program to rant against Japanese Americans. Said John Nishio recently, “I spit on the Fletcher Bowron Square [at 302 N. Main Street] when I go by.” John said his Issei grandfather, Harry, was one of the earliest arrested. “He was still in his pajamas, and he told the FBI, ‘I’m going to put on my pants. If you want to shoot me, that’s on you.’” These early prisoners were taken to a secret location, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station in Tujunga.

California’s lobbying was effective. On 19 February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 causing the mass incarceration of 120,000 Americans with 1/16th Japanese ancestry.

Many civic organizations, religious agencies, and regular folk were conspicuously loud in their silence on this matter.

In contrast, William C. Carr spoke up. He wrote letter after letter to the press, government officials, and civic leaders against the unconstitutional and immoral treatment of Japanese Americans. In a printed letter to the editor of TheTimes, he wrote in part, “You are guilty, by promoting this persecution, of prolonging the war and helping prove to the word that we are unfit for neighbors.” Under this letter, The Times added, “For more than a year, The Times has been receiving letters such as the above from Mr. Carr, a real estate dealer at 1360 W. Colorado Street, Pasadena. This letter is published because of Mr. Carr’s persistency not because of its merit.”[3]

Carr organized, and Friends of the American Way was established. Like-minded individuals, including Hugh Anderson and Herbert Nicholson of Pasadena, also wrote letters, spoke publicly, and gave Japanese Americans moral support. They helped Japanese Americans manage their properties and personal possessions. They pooled their gas rations to bring Christmas gifts to children at Gila River camp in Arizona. They did what they could in practical ways. At Kensington Place, the site of the Pasadena Union Church established in 1905, Friends of the American Way erected a bulletin board listing the names of 117 local Niseis who were serving in the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They also wrote letters to families of Nisei soldiers including this:

We have read of the death of your son, Private First Class Mitsuo Mike Iseri, who was serving in the armed forces of the United States. We appreciate the spirit which lead him to serve his country, and the sacrifice which he made, and you are making, in the hope of a better world to come.

The group which has asked me to write to you has been working for the right of the Japanese Americans and the loyal aliens to return to their homes on the west coast. That the restrictions have finally been lifted is due to the splendid record and the great sacrifices of the men of the Japanese American Combat Team.

 Your son has given his life for his country, and you have given a son, and loved one. We thank you, and we hope that we may all help build a country, and a world, worthy of such sacrifices.[4]

Photos from commons.wikimedia.org

In 1944, Friend of the American Way concocted a plan. They were inspired by the Quaker-led National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJASRC) that helped 4000 Japanese American college students to be released from camps to continue their education in 600 institutions not on the West Coast. This effective seed caused students to sponsor their families and others back into American life, mostly in the Midwest.[5] With the permission of the new Western Defense Commander, General Bonesteel, the plan was to help one Japanese American quietly return to Southern California and enroll in Pasadena Junior College. The hope was that after a significant amount of time, they could show no harm was done and pave the way for other Japanese Americans to return to their homes.

Pasadenan Hugh Anderson could pick no better “test case” than 19-year-old Esther Takei (Nishio), John Nishio’s mother. Esther grew up in Venice, was imprisoned in Amache camp, and thought to advance her journalism education. It was arranged that she would return by train to Southern California on 12 September 1944, live with the Anderson family in Altadena, and enroll at Pasadena Junior College.

The secret plan was immediately found out. Hugh Anderson had to send his own family elsewhere for their own protection. Esther went to school under armed guards. A letter addressed to Mrs. Anderson dated 5 days after Esther’s return, reads in part:

I read in the paper where you share your home with a Japanese from Colorado. You evidently have no one in the service and cannot realize what our boys are fighting and dying for. The boys in the fox holes, shedding their blood, and losing their lives to makes this country free and safe for people like you and yours…[6]

A timeline by civil engineer, Dr. Richard Pomeroy, written on 24 September 1944, shows the sequence of mayhem:

On Sept. 12 Miss Esther Takei came to live in Altadena and to attend Pasadena Junior College. According to Mr. Sexon [sic, actually Sexson], Superintendent of Pasadena Schools, 90% of the student body, which includes 100 ex-servicemen, are agreeable to Miss Takei’s enrollment.

A small group of Pasadena women representing themselves as mother and wives of service men, and one George Kelly [sic, actually Kelley], self-styled Chairman of “Pasadena Safety Commission” started an agitation against her attendance at Junior College.[7] On Tues. Sept 19 a handful of these people attended a meeting of the Pasadena Board of Education and asked the Board to remove Miss Takei from the college. They were informed that the Board had absolutely no power to take any such action. Agitation and newspaper publicity continued however during the following days.

 On the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 22 a number of Pasadena businessmen met in the rooms of the Chamber of Commerce. Their chief concern seemed to be that the agitation was undesirable, in part because it placed Pasadena in a bad light. They came to the conclusion that the best way to quiet the noise would be to get Miss Takei sent back to the re-location camp!!![8]

 Said John Nishio, “My grandfather later told me he couldn’t sleep for days.” John’s grandmother wrote a letter from camp to Hugh Anderson dated 1 Dec 1944 that reads in part:

If I have wings I will fly over there and talk to her all about her present situation. After I read his letter my eyes were wet and hands were shaking with a deep disappointment. I wrote her a letter right [a]way and told her to behave. I can really imagine how much you folks are worring [sic] about her. Please tell her clearly what is our intention sending her to school from here at this hard time. I’m asking you again, please give her good advise and lead her with your kindness. Thank you million…[9]

Ninoe Takei’s December 1944 letter to Emalena and Hugh Anderson of Altadena. Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History.

In an earlier 2005 interview, Esther said she was boostered by support – especially from active members of the military. She received visits and letters including these:

I am on the night watch at this moment and can find no other paper on which to write than this scratch pad. I am sure you will not mind.

I have just read in tonight’s paper on the attempts being made by no doubt sincere but misguided Pasadena citizens to deprive you of your constitutional rights in the matter of your attendance at P.J.C. I note that great stress is laid, in this newspaper account, on the somewhat irrelevant fact that many of those persons interested in your banishment have “relatives in the armed forces,” and I am impelled, therefore, to write to you like this in order to speak for the armed forces myself…

We, in the service, are aware that war is being waged not only upon us as a people, but also upon our form of government, our democracy. We are, therefore, defending not only our geographical boundaries, but our ideals as well. The attack upon our ideals, moreover, is not confined to military theaters alone, but is worldwide, and occurs daily within the United States itself.[10]

And on U.S. Navy stationary from Henry A. Florsheim, dated 9 October 1944:

I have been told that the Friends of the American Way are active in smoothing the way for the return of loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry to their home state, California.

As a Californian as well as a sailor who is to fight at the far corners of the world for liberty, justice, and freedom from fear, I feel strongly that there is nothing more important than to achieve at home the ideals and principles we are striving for abroad.[11]

Esther said that the members of the Student Christian Association took her under their wing and became her friends. She noted that the Black community was especially wonderful and the members of the AME Church of Pasadena invited her for potluck dinners. There was also a small Mexican church that was kind to her. Esther said there were some “unpleasant incidents” and that there was a “little old lady from Pasadena” who spit on her, hit her, and called her a “dirty Jap” at the bus stop.[12]

Esther Takei and PJC Superintendent Dr. John W. Harbeson in September of 1944.

The 1944 Supreme Court ruling of Endo v. United States allowed Japanese Americans to be released from camps effective 2 January 1945, but the return to California – and readjustment – was slow. Esther’s father started over as a gardener, while Esther’s mom found work cleaning houses. Watching her parents in menial jobs, Esther decided to transfer to Sawyer School of Business and complete secretarial training. She married Shig Nishio in 1947, and they had John a year later. Esther’s parents moved to Japan in 1958.

Friends of the American Way diligently helped many Japanese Americans resettle. But realtor William Carr took on a second mission. Before California’s 1963 Rumford Act, Carr broke racial covenants by selling homes intentionally to Japanese Americans, then to Jews, African Americans, and Latinos. In 1960, he not only sold a home to Yosh Kuromiya’s family, he carried their mortgage. Yosh Kuromiya was a World War II draft resistor.[13] William’s son, John Carr, returned from the Navy and joined his father’s business and mission. The reputation of Carr Realty was known – leading to Christopher Carr’s many school yard fights.

In the 2010s, Christopher was clearing his grandfather’s home office. One framed image was of Lt. Kei Tanahashi, KIA in 1944, with his 442nd RCT and Eagle Scout emblems. William had cut out parts of their correspondence included in the frame: “struggling to preserve the ideals of democracy, I feel I am in the battlefield with you”. Another memento was the award-winning pen and ink by Paul Zamai entitled “Horizon Can Be Clear” – done in Heart Mountain camp and long ago gifted to Carr.[14]

Image of 2nd Lt. Tanahashi that hung in William Carr’s home office for decades. Tanahashi was KIA in Castellina, Italy as a member of the 442nd RCT, 2nd Bn, Co G. He had been a member of Koyasan Buddhist Temple’s Boy Scout Troop 379.

During their 2010 graduation ceremony, AB 37 allowed Pasadena City College to give honorary diplomas to Esther and other Japanese American internees – 66 years after Esther first came to the campus. Esther said it was the second happiest day of her life – second to the birth of her son, John. Then PCC Superintendent/President Lisa Sugimoto, a Sansei from Pasadena, said recently, “I hope we restored some of the dignity and humanity for those who were part of that momentous graduation ceremony. I will never forget how all the students receiving their own diplomas stood and clapped when the Nisei graduates entered the stadium.”

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Author’s bio: Susie Ling lives in Monrovia and teaches Asian American studies at Pasadena City College. She was born in Taiwan and raised in the Philippines.

Footnotes:

[1] Christopher Carr and John Nishio spoke publicly at a presentation by Susie Ling entitled “Two Pasadenas: Debate Over Internment Camps,” on 23 May 2023 at the Pasadena Museum of History.

[2] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board. “Editorial: 75 years later, looking back at the Times’ shameful response to Japanese internment” Los Angeles Times, 19 February 2017. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-internment-anniversary-20170219-story.html

[3] William C. Carr, “Persecution of Japs?” Letter to Editor, Los Angeles Times, 21 April 1944, A-1. In Box 53 of William C. Carr Papers, Japanese American Research Project Collection, UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

[4] Excerpted from letter by Afton Dill Nense to Friends of the American Way, 30 Dec 1944. In Box 2 of “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History.

[5] UC President Robert Gordon Sproul tried to transfer Japanese American UC students to other universities as early as March of 1942. See letter: https://digitallibrary.californiahistoricalsociety.org/object/21806. This may have been the inspiration for the organizing of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. See Densho encyclopedia entry by Allan Austin: https://encyclopedia.densho.org/National_Japanese_American_Student_Relocation_Council/

[6] Letter from Mrs. J. H. Wilson to Mrs. [Emalena] Anderson, dated 17 September 1944. Box 1 of “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History.

[7] Elsewhere, this committee was called “Ban the Japs” Committee.

[8] Letter from Dr. Richard Pomeroy to Whom It May Concern, dated 24 September 1944. Box 1 of “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History.

[9] Letter from Ninoe Takei to Hugh and Emalena Anderson, dated December 1, 1944. Box 1 of “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History.

[10] Letter from David Mumford to Esther Takei, dated September 23, 1944. Box 2, “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History/

[11] Letter from Henry A. Florsheim to Esther Takei, dated October 9, 1944. Box 2, “Hugh Anderson Collection, 1921-1959,” Pasadena Museum of History.

[12] Phone interview of Esther Takei Nishio by Susie Ling in November of 2005.

(13)Yosh Kuromiya was born in Sierra Madre and an art student at Pasadena Junior College before he was interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. His autobiography is entitled Beyond the Betrayal: The Memoir of a World War II Japanese American Draft Resister of Conscience, University Press of Colorado, 2022.

(14) Tanahashi’s photo was regifted to the Go for Broke Museum, and Zamai’s art work to the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in 2015.

Featured Image:

2010 Nisei Graduation with Esther Takei Nishio and Superintendent/President Lisa Sugimoto of Pasadena City College. Photographer: Professor Robert Lee.

3 Comments

  1. Gail Kuromiya on June 4, 2023 at 10:19 am

    Another great article by Susie Ling. Thanks, Susie, for continuing to shed light on the dark days of WWII J/A incarceration and the events leading up to and following it. Thanks to you, I managed to connect my mother, Haru Kuromiya (married to my father Yosh Kuromiya) with Christopher Carr a few years ago so she could personally thank him for his father and grandfather’s incredible kindness and support in facilitating my parents’ purchase of my childhood home in Altadena.



  2. Phil Way on June 4, 2023 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing that. It added much to my knowledge and awareness.

    I would still like to have you come and speak to Orange Grove Friends Meeting and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). We have some fears that many people will not see the relevance for today. I see a great deal of relevance. As long as there are hate crimes being committed against Asians, Muslims. Immigrants, LGBT folks, and whistleblower journalists we need to be vigilant that history does not repeat itself. And the government often fuels the flames and instigates assaults on civil rights as they did toward Muslims after 9/11.



  3. Marvin Inouye on June 5, 2023 at 7:55 am

    Susie and I keep crossing paths. I grew up in Monrovia, went to Japanese school with Larry Kuromiya, knew several of the African American people she interviewed regarding their history, and introduced her to the Marshall family. These are continuing stories. I also was fortunate to have met two Fair Play Committee members from Heart Mountain…Yosh Kuromiya and Takashi Hoshizaki the Marshalls next door neighbor. Susie has done another great job!



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