1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with unusual interest, but with neither prejudices nor suspicion.  The war situation makes their lot a difficult one.  Oberlin can help by treating them no differently than it treats any of its other 1800 or more student residents.

For an example of how not to act we can take that of Parksville, Missouri.  There in recent weeks, the mayor and city council have been “up in arms” over the prospective arrival of seven Japanese American evacuees as students.  Boasting that they were not as “soft” as the F.B.I., the city officials threatened to run these students out of town.

We do not believe there are any Oberlin citizens who are so lacking in common humanity, or whose patriotism is of such an empty, bombastic variety as would allow them to adopt the attitude of Parksville’s mayor.  If so they surely do not deserve the name of Oberlin, and we wish them elsewhere.

No, in this respect we are still the Oberlin of old.  We wish for these fellow American citizens an entirely happy and intellectually profitable stay in Oberlin.  May their experiences here only serve to strengthen their belief, and our belief, in the democratic way of living.

Grace Kyoko Imamoto Noda (non-graduate of ’45)

young Grace Imamoto (in front of father, Zenichi)

Grace Imamoto was born on January 14, 1920 to social worker James Zenichi Iwamoto and Yoshi Iwamasa Imamoto. She was only three credits short of receiving a degree from U.C. Berkeley when Japanese Americans were forcibly “evacuated” from West Coast institutions. Grace was proud of her academic record and refused the offer of one professor to receive a “D” to graduate. After evacuation, she and her family were evacuated to Arkansas for internment. She then was released from the camp to do domestic work in Minneapolis. Although she attempted to enroll in the University of Minnesota to complete her degree, she was denied admission.

Grace later moved to Oberlin to accompany and support her sister Alice Setsuko Imamoto, who was studying in the Conservatory of Music. At this time Grace worked as assistant cook, cleaning and preparing meals at “Grad House”.

In her poignant personal essay, written in sophisticated script, Grace speaks of how her personal history and the West Coast evacuation of Nisei sparked her interest in psychology and her desire to become a social worker.

Childhood was spent in a closely-knitted family unit. Reared under parents who devoted most of their time with child psychology, discipline, and […] development. My three sisters and I were given music lessons in piano, violin and cello. Music was developed not only for ourselves but also to play at various organizations. Through this work I became attached to the church by playing for church services. I joined the first organization – W.W.G. – World Wide Guild. A group interested in helping the youth of other countries of the world who needed some assistance. I became aware of the existing conditions through the messages  actively brought back to us by the missionaries. I devoted all my free time, outside of my homework, piano practice, to collecting unwanted toys, postcards and other useable material for my club.

I had difficulties in my adolescence, causing much grief to myself. My parents couldn’t understand me nor I-them. I didn’t realize that we had such a phase in our lives. I began [to] wonder about many things such as adolescence, behavior, moods, inner thinking. In speaking with my freshmen counselor in high school, she told me some of the doubting (?) problems. I took courses in high school to prepare myself for college. I stayed the later two years of my high school working in a private home so that I might become acquainted with the ways others lived too. I was extremely fond of people, meeting friends at the club meetings, churches, and parties.

However college was a sudden new world opened to me. I attended a university of 15,000 pupils and I didn’t realize how insignificant I became. One had to do exceptionally well in his works to be recognized by any of his professors. I had some trying times not knowing a sa(?) and lacking that person to person relationship with my instructors. I wanted to study for social welfare major but being extremely interested in behavior, ideas, reactions and activities, I decided to research into psychology. I wanted  to study the personality of people – the basis of our society and the social world. In trying to make up my mind what specific field of psychology, I began taking many of them to compare them.

My actual desire to become a social worker penetrated my heart after the evacuation of Japanese aliens and citizens from the Western Coast. The lack of social worker was suspiciously noticed. I felt so helpless not knowing too much about social welfare. (I helped in the school teaching) Many proud mothers would not come to the social science office for assistance despite the desperate need of assistance. Children were poorly clothed, families were dissatisfied and broken-up having been uprooted from their normal ways of life. Ministers were only available social workers but they too lacked adequate training. I would like to study this summer and finish my A.B. degree and continue into some Social Studies School in order to meet the call which will be great after this war has ceased.

Although she received the necessary credits to receive a degree from Oberlin, Grace refused them, believing she had rightfully earned a degree from Berkeley. Oberlin asked Berkeley for permission to award Grace a Berkeley degree at an Oberlin commencement, but Berkeley refused, and Grace did not receive her Berkeley degree until travel restrictions to the West Coast were lifted in 1945.

After Oberlin, Grace married Grant S. Noda on April 4, 1945 and had two children, Kathy A. Noda and Tanya M. Noda.

Though she did not graduate from Oberlin, she wrote in an Alumni Reunion Class Questionnaire:

I regret I only attended one lecture course to fulfill credits towards BA from UC Berkeley. War prevented me from graduating from Cali. in 1942 & 1945. […] I’m delighted to see Oberlin’s growth – the Conservatory is magnificent & certainly one to be most proud. There are some of Oberlin’s graduates here in Davis.

Eugene Kiyozumi/Shigemi Uyeki, ’48

Eugene Shigemi Uyeki was born to Ryuichi Uyeki and Chisato Hirai Uyeki on March 26, 1926. During the war he was evacuated to an internment camp. He transferred from University of Utah, Salt Lake City to Oberlin in 1945. When asked why he wished to change his college, he said: “I feel that I can better prepare myself for my future work at Oberlin than here at the University of Utah. I wish to attend Oberlin because all the people whom I have asked about concerning Oberlin are very high in its praise… The most striking thing about Oberlin which influences me was its emphasis on a liberal education with preparatory works towards graduate study.”

He graduated Phi Betta Kappa from Oberlin with a BA in Political Science in 1948.

In this admissions essay, Eugene talks about how the people he met while in an internment camp influenced him to pursue the social sciences.

My Autobiography

I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I was born in the city of Seattle in the state of Washington. All of my grade school training and my two years of high school were spent in the schools in Seattle. I made excellent grades and was considered numerous times for double promotions. However, my health as a child was not very good, and after numerous consultations with my parents, it was always decided that because fo my poor health it would be inadvisable to take on extra work. Since then my health has improved considerably and I haven’t missed many days of school.

The days went merrily along. Heedless of the gathering storm clouds, most of us were busily engrossed in our play. Then the storm broke with all its fury, and our nation was plunged into the world holocaust. From that day since, like millions of other Americans, my life has not been the same.

Along with thousands of other Nisei, I was evacuated in the spring of 1942 to relocation centers in the barren deserts of the inland states. Evacuation was a very severe blow to my pride and shattered many of my pre-conceived notions of democracy. Even to the last day that I was to be evacuated, I felt that somehow the evacuation order would be rescinded. Maybe it was a blind faith in America, but it was faith.

With the passage of the great healer of all wounds–time– much of my bitterness passed away, and I put myself whole-heartedly into school studies and extra-curricular activities. My efforts were not unrewarded as witness the following positions which I held: President of the Debate Club, vice-president of the Senior Class, business manager of the Yearbook, vice-president of the Pen Club, besides numerous other lesser positions. My most thrilling experience was delivering the farewell address at our commencement excercises last June. I thought that maybe my grades would suffer for the lack of any time after engaging in so many extra-curricular activities, but they still remained just as good. Even if I had gotten lower grades, the good that I profited from these activities would more than compensate for them. Not only was I having lots of fun, but it gave me a sense of doing something for the good of the school and the community. I was constantly meeting people, always on the go, and assuming new responsibilities–doing things which would be of much value in later life.

I met many fine people in camp–both Caucasian and Nisei. The friendships I made there, friendships under a time of strain, were very enjoyable and profitable. I came to appreciate many of the things which I had taken for granted before. The monotony of regimented life in the centers, community dining halls, bath houses, and the like were abhorring to me.

Up to the time of evacuation, I was pretty set on going into one of the physical sciences as a profession. But because of evacuation and from the many influences arising out of friendships made while at the center, I have radically changed my mind, and I am very sure now that I am going into one of the social sciences. One person who has influenced me very much towards that end is Reverend Joseph M. Kitagawa of Hunt, Idaho. He is an Episcopalian minister, young as most reverends go. He is very much interested in the younger generation, and I was very fortunate in being able to help him out during the summer vacation. Just from being around him, I have to come to appreciate the good that a person trained in the social sciences can do. Another person who has influenced me a great deal is Mr. Elmer R. Smith, professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, now on leave to the WRA at Hunt, Idaho. He was acting as community analyst at Hunt, and I spent many evenings with him discussing a variety of topics. His utter sincerity and ever-ready helpfulness in helping the Nisei who were being scored by almost everybody was like a shaft of beam in a dark room– a hope of something better to come.

I have always been an avid reader of literature of all kinds. I like to read the newspapers and news magazines for I wish to know what is going on in this complex world of ours. Lately, my taste for books has been diverted mostly towards non-fiction such as biographies and books of the times such as Sumner Welles’s “The Time for Decision.” I find a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of reading these kinds of books.

My plans for the future are always subject to change. At the present time, I am very much interested in majoring in Political Science, or entering the field of law. I am quite sure that I want to do graduate work in either field. Because of what we have gone through, I feel that I can add a little to the sum total of American culture.

After graduating, Eugene went on to the University of Chicago to receive an MA in Political Science in ’52, and then a Ph.D. in ’53. In 1956 he married Martha “Marty” C. Ono (a University of Pennsylvania graduate and later medical social worker), and together they had two children, Timothy M. and Robert H.

From 1952, Eugene worked as an Institutional Assistant, Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, with a break from February 1954-November 1955, during which he served in the US Army as SP-3 Corporal.

Sammy Junsuke Oi, Oberlin 1944, Admissions Essay

Sammy J. Oi, class of 1944

I was born on March 1, 1922. My early childhood days were spent in that section of Los Angeles a little northwest of the central business district. I only seem able to recall the many hills and a park near our home where often I played with my mother and sister.

We moved to the southwestern part of town when I was about four years old and soon after I entered kindergarten. I graduated from elementary school in 1933 and then attended Forshay Junior High School. It was about this time that I joined the Boy Scouts and during the next few summers many enjoyable days were spent hiking and camping at the beaches and in the mountains near Los Angeles. Many friends were made during this period whom I cherish to this day.

I entered senior high school in September, 1936. Up to this time my future was very undecided. What was I to do upon graduation? Yes, I would like to go on to college but going to college without a purpose, I thought, was useless. My father had a successful market business which I could continue if I so chose. Somehow I felt that this was not to be my lot. To be a true success, I thought, one should love his work. It was my intention to live as full a life as possible. I had made the acquaintance of two fellow students and many enjoyable and profitable hours were spent with them, discussing the question, “What are we living for?” I decided that perhaps college would help me to solve this problem.

In my second year in high school, I studied chemistry under Miss Willson, an elderly, crippled lady. Often I had spoken with her after class and in the course of one of these talks, she encouraged me to major in chemistry when I went to college. College, she said, was a place where one should learn to think. Chemistry is the subject which will help you most to think.

I entered U.C.L.A. in the fall of 1939. Soon after school started, my father became ill and was bedridden for over four  months. I was forced to look after his business, an this with my studies occupied nearly all of my time.

It was in the summer of 1940, when I spent my most pleasant vacation. With two friends, I spent a week in the interior of Yosemite. There, we hiked among tall pines and rugged granite mountains and swam in cool Lake Tenaya. There, I learned to appreciate nature.

This year when evacuation orders were issued, I dropped out of school. Now I am confined in a relocation center. My immediate plan is to finish school. I would like to go on in chemistry until I have a master’s degree and if possible a doctor’s. Perhaps I may be able to secure a position as a chemist in some plant or maybe teach in college.

At present I am hoping and praying with all my heart that the war will end soon and that men can live decently in a peaceful world.

Respectfully submitted,

Sammy J. Oi

After receiving a degree in Chemistry from Oberlin in 1944, Sammy joined the Army from ’44-’46, where service included Intelligence Service Language School, Engineer School, and assignment to the Engineer Board until discharge. He spent 7 months in Japan with a Technical Intelligence Team from November ’45-June ’46.  Once discharged, he did not return to further studies, but instead helped his father in the operation of “Oi’s Food Market”, which he later took over. He eventually married a woman named Evelyn. Sammy J. Oi passed away in 2000.