Healey Library mourns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all Black Americans who have been killed during our country’s more than four-hundred-year history of deeply-rooted systemic racist violence. We condemn in the strongest terms white supremacy, police brutality, and racism in all of its forms. We stand in solidarity with and send our support to our Black students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members. The Black community is our community, and we unequivocally and unconditionally state that Black lives matter.
Author: Shay Park, Archives Assistant
You know, we studied civics in high school and when I realized that the government was interning these American citizens and putting them behind barbed wire, I just could not believe it. It was not American, not the United States that I knew. —Esther Nishio, former Pasadena College student and former prisoner at the Granada War Relocation Center
During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of anyone living in vaguely defined “military areas.” These areas were largely located on the West Coast, where Japanese immigrants had settled and developed thriving communities since the turn of the twentieth century. These residents were regarded with suspicion by government officials and other Americans as potential threats to the United States solely on the basis of their national origin. Thus, by declaring the West Coast a “military area,” these Japanese and Japanese American residents were deliberately targeted, though not explicitly named, in FDR’s Executive Order (1).
The policy of removal and relocation to internment camps lasted from 1942 to 1945 and imprisoned nearly 120,000 people. The majority of those incarcerated were American citizens and were held without evidence or due process. The evacuations began on March 24, 1942, and internment continued until a 1945 Supreme Court decision ruled the practice unconstitutional. The last camp closed in March 1946 (2).
The holdings in University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston includes the digital collection “From Confinement to College: Video Oral Histories of Japanese American Students in World War II.” The collection contains video interviews, transcriptions of those interviews, and photographs of the eighteen participants interviewed for the oral history project. All eighteen are Japanese Americans who were relocated to internment camps. The project was carried out by the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston and the interviews were conducted by Dr. Paul Watanabe in 2010-2011.
The interview subjects describe the living conditions at sites that typically consisted of buildings not intended for human habitation, most often horse stalls in large barns, that offered little privacy or comfort. Unsurprisingly, many of the interviewees describe a “block” or “blank” in their recollections of that time, but some are able and willing to recount aspects of their daily lives, such as the jobs they worked in the camp’s cafeteria or as maintenance workers, or the games and activities they participated in with their families and friends in the camp to pass the time.
What is remarkable about these former prisoners’ experiences is that they attended college during the period of Japanese internment. They were all roughly aged 16 to 20 at the time of evacuation, and soon after arriving at the camp, it was arranged to have them attend university. This was typically accomplished by several people working together, such as their parents, other acquaintances in the camp, and/or individuals and advocacy groups outside the camp. Several of the interviewees described themselves or their families as having a natural expectation that they would still go to school, despite the unnatural circumstances in which they found themselves.
In order to cover the costs of living and tuition, most of the interviewees became live-in maids or nannies for local families near their new university. These arrangements were also facilitated by others on their behalf. Several of the interviewees cite Quaker groups or organizations like the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council or Friends of the American Way as providing instrumental help through the process of applying, moving, and locating a place to live and work.
There were instances when community members learned that an interned Japanese American person would be attending a nearby university and held protests in response. The most notorious incident happened to Esther Nishio, one of the interviewees and the first Japanese American student to attend a California university after internment. Her arrival at Pasadena Junior College was met with harassment and in some cases violence. Esther says in her interview with Dr. Watanabe that she was mostly insulated from the “furor,” but Pasadena community members harassed Esther as well as school officials (3). Other students were forced to change universities before they even arrived because of the uproar their admission caused, or the school rejected their application outright. And even when they were able to attend, in some instances the locals treated them with hostility.
However, even in cases like Esther’s, many of the interviewees describe a welcoming environment from classmates, teachers, and administrators within the university itself. Esther described her fellow students as “very friendly”: “[T]hey were all so wonderful to me… I met soldiers who had returned from the South Pacific who were attending college and… they couldn’t be nicer. It was just these other people that were causing so much problems.” Most said they were one of very few Japanese American students at their university, but despite that, they felt accepted and even enjoyed their time. “I had no trouble fitting in, really,” said Chiye Tomihiro. “You know, I went to a school in the first place in Portland where, you know, I was a minority to begin with so… it wasn’t something new for me.” Similarly, Francis Fukuhara called his transition into the student population “seamless” and Theodore Ono described the reception as “very kind and warm.”
The interview subjects majored in a variety of fields, ranging from math and science to art and music, and studied at universities throughout the country, such as Oberlin College, the University of Denver, and the University of Missouri. Following the war and their time in school, they went on to live interesting lives as teachers, scientists, artists, and more. Some of the notable figures interviewed for the project are George Matsumoto (1922-2016), a Modernist architect, Gordon H. Sato (1927-2017), a prominent cellular biologist, and Setsuko Nishi (1921-2012), an activist, sociologist, and professor who taught the first Asian American studies courses at City University of New York (CUNY).
In what is already a strange and contradictory tale—Japanese American students who left imprisonment to attend school in a country that considered them and their families potential enemies of the state—there are more twists: some of interviewees were drafted to fight in the war during their internment, and a few even went on to work in national security. Participant Robert Naka recounts the surprise he felt when he was granted clearance to work on a government contract that involved working on radar detection of bombs. He then went on to become deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office (a part of the United States Department of Defense) in 1969. Robert remembers a conversation he had with a colleague later about these experiences:
We talked about [my time in the internment camp] and then he said, “Gee, Bob, you went from being a distrusted American to one of the most trusted we have. You ran the National Reconnaissance Office. That was a tightly, tightly held secret of the United States government. And you signed papers to the White House with all these tightly held code word classifications on the letter and it’s truly remarkable.” And he said, “Only in America could such a transition possibly be allowed.” He thought it was incredible and so did I.
“Only in America”—it is a sobering remark on what Robert and the tens of thousands of other prisoners experienced during World War II under the policy of the US government. But Robert, like several of the other interview subjects, chooses to view what he went through with a hopeful lens. When asked by Dr. Watanabe what lessons he would want other to take away from this history, he replies:
Well I can only continue with this notion of “Only in America.” …It’s an amazing arrangement of a democracy where a person has considerable individual freedom and roadblocks occur… but the society is permissive so that you can actually work your way around and through these difficult periods and make contributions to our society.
This hope Robert and others feel based on their ability to persist is joined by a hope rooted in the ability to share their stories. “I don’t know [what] else we can do except tell our stories. …[M]aybe leave a legacy, for the others to follow,” says Rose Yamauchi. She continues, describing about her efforts to write about her experiences in a writing group:
I was unable to talk about it for years. I don’t know why, just, we didn’t talk about it.… Of course we were busy working and trying to build careers and things, but still, it was an experience that maybe we wanted to forget, I don’t know. Anyway, we might still have held a grudge for a long time, I know, because when I started to write the stories, that is the first time I was able to put it on paper or able to talk about it and my friends in the writing group realized that too, that when I first started writing, I couldn’t get up and read the story even. But gradually it’s gotten easier…
“You know you can tell by the way that a person responds what kind of person they are. It’s amazing,” Rose concludes. “They respond well to it and I, in turn, I am able to take the burden off of my soul and tell the story of my internment and my life.”
The oral histories document a broad range of experiences of internment based on gender, geography, class, and more. To view the video interviews or read the transcripts, visit the collection here. To learn more about Japanese American college students who experienced internment during World War II, see below.
1. “FDR orders Japanese Americans into internment camps.” History, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fdr-signs-executive-order-9066.
2. “Japanese Internment Camps,” History, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation.
3. Mozingo, Joe. “She was a test case for resettling detainees of Japanese descent—and unaware of the risk.” LA Times, 30 November 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-11-30/column-one-she-was-a-test-case-for-resettling-detainees-of-japanese-descent-and-unaware-of-the-risk.
Austin, Allan W. “National Japanese American Student Relocation Council.” Densho Encyclopedia, http://encyclopedia.densho.org/National_Japanese_American_Student_Relocation_Council.
—. “American Friends Service Committee.” Densho Encyclopedia, http://encyclopedia.densho.org/American_Friends_Service_Committee.
Bigalke, Zach. “World War II and the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council.” Blog post. Unbound. The University of Oregon, Special Collections and University Archives, 23 January, 2015, https://blogs.uoregon.edu/scua/2015/01/23/world-war-ii-and-the-national-japanese-american-student-relocation-council.
“Courage and Compassion: Student Biographies.” Oberlin College and Conservatory, https://www.oberlin.edu/courage-and-compassion-student-biographies.
Erlandson, Devin. “The Relocation of Japanese American Students to Wayne University during World War II.” Blog post. Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, 11 July 2014, http://reuther.wayne.edu/node/11936.
Austin, Allan W. From Concentration Camp to Campus. University of Illinois Press, 2004. https://umbrella.lib.umb.edu/permalink/f/1951nkk/01MA_UMB_ALMA51217089110003746.
Okihiro, Gary. Storied Lives: Japanese American Students and World War II. University of Washington Press, 1999. https://umbrella.lib.umb.edu/permalink/f/1951nkk/01MA_UMB_ALMA51158086030003746.
Takemoto, Paul Howard. Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk about the War Years. University of Washington Press, 2012.
Author: Alyssa Tkach, Archives Assistant
University Archives and Special Collections holds a collection of eighteen children’s drawings that document life in Vietnam in the 1960s. The drawings were made possible by various world peace organizations and activists, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Committee of Responsibility, and Le van Khoa.
These drawings were created by Vietnamese children around 1966 as resource materials for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The AFSC is a Quaker organization that was formed in 1917 by the Religious Society of Friends in order to aid civilians who were affected by World War I. In the 1960s, they helped build anti-war coalitions to challenge U.S. policy in Vietnam (1). Today, they continue to work to improve racial relations around the globe, advocating for social justice and peace.
Le van Khoa is a music composer, photographer, and educator who arrived in the United States from Vietnam in May 1975 as a war refugee (2). He was born to a working-class family on June 10, 1933, in Can-Tho, a city in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam. As a child, Le van Khoa taught himself how to read and play music, which ultimately led him to win an award at age nineteen for two songs he had composed and submitted to a national music contest (2).
Le van Khoa’s success earned him a job as a host for a children’s television show, World of Children (2). In addition to his passion for music, Le van Khoa is a renowned photographer who co-founded the Artistic Photography Association of Vietnam and published three books (3). The Special Collections and University Archives department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is home to a small collection of his photographs, which focus on life in Vietnam (3). The drawings were submitted to a contest that Le van Khoa sponsored in connection with World of Children, and he later donated the drawings to the Committee of Responsibility in an effort to help raise funds for Vietnam (4).
The Committee of Responsibility (COR) was formed in 1966 by medical personnel, scientists, religious leaders, and other conscious citizens to assist Vietnamese children under the age of sixteen. The Committee provided medical assistance by bringing children to the United States for various treatments and rehabilitation. Around 100 children were treated by this program, and after completing their treatment, nearly all of them returned to Vietnam (5).
These images range from lighthearted cartoon characters and nature scenes to emotional depictions of soldiers and war. The drawings contextualize the impact of the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese perspective; researchers who study the residual effects of war on civilians and children will find this collection to be particularly valuable.
References and further reading
1. “Vietnam Summer,” American Friends Service Committee, accessed April 23, 2020, https://www.afsc.org/vietnamsummer.
2. “Le Van Khoa Collection,” UMass Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, accessed April 23, 2020, http://findingaids.library.umass.edu/ead/mums170.
3. “Le Van Khoa Photograph Collection,” UMass Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, accessed April 23, 2020, http://scua.library.umass.edu/umarmot/vietnam/.
4. “American Friends Service Committee, Vietnam Curriculum Project: children’s drawings and resource materials, 1954-1977, bulk 1963-1976,” UMass Boston Digital Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, accessed April 23, 2020, https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll8/id/135/rec/1.
5. “Committee of Responsibility Records, 1966-1978,” Swarthmore College Peace Collection, last modified February 9, 2018, https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/DG151-175/DG173COR.htm.
Author: Shay Park, Archives Assistant
In 1988, educator, photographer, and UMass Boston alumnus Doug Clifford traveled to Vietnam with his wife. It was not Clifford’s first time to Vietnam, however. He served as an aerial reconnaissance film-lab technician during the Vietnam War—in other words, a photographer, who was trained by the United States Air Force along with other military cameramen to photograph the war. Reflecting on his first impressions of Vietnam, Clifford experienced “a sharp contrast” with the images he had seen in the U.S. media, which he understood to be invested in “how we could identify with American GIs, and how without substance or context were the Vietnamese” (1). Clifford saw this as one version of reality, with the other being “the reality of Vietnam” populated by “not just soldiers, VC and ARVN, but schoolchildren, farmers, merchants, and the countless others who worked at the bases”:
I tried to present Vietnam as a place where people lived, worked, went to school, and struggled with their lives, in spite of the war…. I wanted to take pictures of little children looking like children; I wanted the landscape to be shown for its beauty: the tropical sunsets were spectacular and with the monsoon came every shade of green, from rice stalks to the grass on the hills; and on some days the Central Highlands rose up through the low cloud cover like a panorama in a Chinese screen painting (1).
Though that is how Clifford described the photographs he took while stationed at Phu Cat Air Base from 1968 to 1969, that perspective of Vietnam and its people likely influenced the photographs he took on his return trip in 1988. These photographs, held in the Healey Library’s University Archives and Special Collections department, were originally exhibited and held by the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston. There are fifteen black-and-white photographs, and almost all feature human subjects, often children, many with their faces turned towards the camera. View the finding aid for this photograph collection.
In “Woman Farmer in Dalat Agricultural Region” a woman stands in front of harvested root vegetables. Her mouth is open and smiling, as if she is speaking to someone just out of the frame. Behind her stands a small child staring directly into the lens. The pattern of the child’s sweater is cheerful even in black and white. Other photographs are less candid but still lively. The children in “Two Young Boys Poised Happily While Older Woman Tended to Water Buffalo” are captured in close-up making faces at the camera. One smiles widely and the other scowls playfully. In the background and out of focus are the older woman and water buffalo, both turned away from the camera and the boys’ antics.
“Center of Hanoi on a Busy Weekend in Front of the Central Bank” shows a different scene, an urban street outside the State Bank of Vietnam in Hanoi. The image is framed by the sidewalk below and the boughs of a tree hanging above. Taken from behind a person crouched on the sidewalk, one can see bicycles crossing back and forth across the frame. A bus is visible behind the trees that line the front of the bank. A portrait of Ho Chí Minh overlooks the people moving about their day.
Two of the most striking photographs in the collection—“Pleiku Air Base” and “Rice Farming, near Phu Cat”—may not have been taken during his 1988 trip but were acquired together with the other photographs. In “Pleiku Air Base,” two women sit on a short wooden barrier, both dressed in fashionable camouflage print. One woman holds magazines in both hands and appears to be talking to someone out of frame, while the other looks down with a serious expression, playing a worn-looking guitar covered in tape. Pleiku Air Base was used by the United States Army during the Vietnam War but in 1975 was seized by the Vietnam People’s Army and then abandoned. Eventually it was developed into the Pleiku Airport for civilians. “Rice Farming, near Phu Cat” shows rice farmers miniaturized by the surrounding rice paddy. Unlike many of the other photographs in the collection, the environment dominates the frame. The expansive landscape makes it difficult to immediately perceive depth; only the farmers and the trees mark the relative distances.
Following the Vietnam War, Clifford returned to the U.S. and enrolled in classes at UMass Boston, including a few photography courses. Clifford’s work has been published in a variety of places, including student newspapers and The Vietnam Experience, a book series on the Vietnam War published by Time Life. Clifford was also an educator, beginning as a tutor in the Veterans Program at UMass Boston and retiring as an English professor at Bunker Hill Community College. In 2014, Clifford participated in a video interview about his time as a UMass Boston student for the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show. In 2016, the Walter Grossmann Gallery in Healey Library at UMass Boston hosted an exhibit titled “Cuba Photographs, December 2015” that featured thirty photographs from Clifford’s trip to Cuba just six months after the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations. For Doug Clifford’s full remarks on his experiences as a photographer during the Vietnam War, visit his profile on the National Veterans Art Museum Collection Online.
References and further reading
1. “Douglas Clifford.” National Veterans Art Museum Collection Online, https://collection.nvam.org/ index.php?artist=Clifford%2C+Douglas.
2. Doug Clifford at the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show: Video Interview. UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show collection. University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston, https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll6/id/8384/rec/3.
3. Elder, Andrew. “Photographs by Doug Clifford show Cuba in December 2015, six months after restored diplomatic relations with the U.S.” Open Archives News. University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston, 30 November, 2016, https://blogs.umb.edu/archives/2016/11/30/photographs-by-Doug-clifford-show-cuba-in-december-2015-six-months-after-restored-diplomatic-relations-with-the-u-s.
Author: Shay Park, Archives Assistant
At Boston’s Back Bay Station, there is a statue and a permanent exhibit commemorating civil rights and labor organizer A. Philip Randolph. Randolph’s activism began in the early twentieth century and continued through the Civil Rights Era. Notably, he was a co-organizer of the March on Washington on August 23, 1963, one of the largest political rallies in history. He also organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union for railroad porters of the Pullman Car Company, in 1925. The Brotherhood’s Boston members are the focus of the Back Bay exhibit, titled “Knights of the Rail.” The exhibit takes the form of six porcelain panels mounted on walls inside the station.
Within our Special Collections are the exhibit guide and transcripts of interviews of retired Pullman employees and former Brotherhood members. Browse digitized copies of those materials and the finding aid for the collection. The interviews were conducted by historian Robert C. Hayden as part of the research process for the exhibit. The guide contains reproductions of each of the panels, as well as text written by the late historian and labor activist Dr. Jim Green that recounts the history of the Pullman porters leading up to the formation of the Brotherhood and the gains they made under Randolph’s leadership.
Though the statue, exhibit, and exhibit guide highlight the immense contributions of A. Philip Randolph through the Brotherhood, the interviews also provide rich insight into the lives of the railroad workers. Following the Civil War, there was a mass migration of newly freed Black Americans to northern cities. Job prospects were limited due to segregation and racism, which meant that the Black workforce quickly became one that was easily exploited as cheap labor, and Black workers were forced into a finite range of job positions.
The Pullman Car Company, which had a virtual monopoly on the manufacture and operation of sleeper rail cars, took advantage of these circumstances by hiring an almost exclusively Black staff, from cooks to waiters to cleaners to porters. Wages were low and working conditions were poor, but it presented an opportunity to make a living for many who had few other choices. By the 1920s, the Pullman Company was the largest employer of Black labor in the United States.
Pullman porters made multiple failed attempts to organize before approaching A. Philip Randolph for his help. Under his leadership, the Brotherhood finally formed, with demands such as a 240-hour work month and a minimum monthly wage of $150. However, it wasn’t until more than a decade later in 1937 that the Pullman Company recognized the Brotherhood after a long battle attempting to bust the union. Randolph successfully negotiated many of their demands, and their victory made them the first national Black union to bargain effectively with a major company.
The interviews showcase the variety of jobs employees on Pullman cars held. While the Brotherhood unionized the Pullman porters, there were other workers such as those in the dining cars who were not organized until later. The interviews provide details of daily life on the railroads, experienced through long hours on trips that took them away from home. Many appreciated the opportunity to travel and the steady job, while lamenting the fact that supporting their loved ones meant spending long periods of time away. Some recounted kind or reasonable supervisors, though they still experienced discrimination—if not from their employers then from the patrons they served. Others described the frequent lack of formal training, with some learning on the job with little to no former experience, whether it was as a cook or as an engine repair person. Overall, in spite of grievances or hardships, most stated that they enjoyed their jobs.
Along with diversity in job types, the workers themselves had diverse life experiences. The majority of the workers interviewed moved to the Boston area from Southern states, but Fidel S. Barboza, who worked first as a cook and then as a porter until he was laid off in 1957, was an immigrant from Mexico. Though he struggled because he did not speak English at first, he was considered a good worker and promoted several times. Frances E. Rideout, one of two women interviewed, described her time as a waitress. When she began working in the 1930s, it was rare for a woman to work on railroads, but over the course of her nearly four decades on Pullman cars, she did experience working with an all-woman crew.
Interviewer Robert C. Hayden and Dr. Jim Green, author of the exhibit guide, wrote in a joint article about the interviews that they “show that Randolph’s movement was composed of rank-and-file workers of many political persuasions, people who also deserve recognition.” They foreground the individual lives of those for whom the Brotherhood and later union organizations advocated. It provides these workers the ability to tell their own stories and ensure their personal experiences are included in the history of the larger movement.
Those who are interested in other relevant holdings in our University Archives and Special Collection may consult the James Green papers. Dr. Green taught history and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, creating and then directing its Public History graduate program. His papers cover nearly fifty years of research and activism among other kinds of materials and activities. Dr. Green also provided a video interview for the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show on May 2, 2014, describing the activism he took part in on UMass Boston’s campus over the years.
References and further reading
“Pullman Porters Helped Build Black Middle Class.” NPR, 7 May 2009, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103880184.
Green, James R. and Robert C. Hayden. “A. Philip Randolph and Boston’s African-American Railroad Worker.” Trotter Review, vol. 6, no. 2, 1992, 20-23. Internet Archive. Web. https://archive.org/details/trotterreview62willi/page/20/mode/2up.
McWatt, Arthur C. “‘A Greater Victory’: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in St. Paul.” Minnesota History, vol. 55, no. 5, 1997, 202–216.