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Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory - Part 3 of 7

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The April 2 Rocky Nippon was dedicated to Omura and his Pacific Coast Evacuee Placement Bureau, whose doors had just closed. Other Denver doors were slamming in Omura’s face. In the April 10 Times, Kaz Oka of Poston, Arizona, denounced Omura. In “Why I Disagree with Mr. Omura,” Oka dismissed Omura’s recent lecture “on his favorite topic” as more of his rantings. He mocked Omura for devoting half his talk to his placement bureau. “I fail to see what it has to do with his discussion of the JACL and its alleged failings…UNLESS he is aware…that the JACL may ‘invade’ his territory and encroach upon his private enterprise by offering reasonably better services.”

On May 14 Omura waved off Oka as just another JACL hireling who dealt in innuendo and propaganda, declaring that he had never charged a fee for his employment bureau services. On May 28 he returned to Oka in his new Rocky Shimpo column, “Nisei America: Know the Facts.” Why, Omura agonized, had the JACL tapped such a nothing writer as Oka when their stable had so many capable writers, like “Mr. Tajiri himself, the editorial genius of the Pacific Citizen…to employ his prolific pen [in the JACL’s defense].” What Nisei needed to know, explained Omura on June 28, was that Tajiri and his PC associates were suspected of alleged Communistic leanings, and because of “this fact [it] may go badly for him and the J.A.C.L.”1

In reality, things were going well for the JACL, leastwise in Denver, and Omura knew it. The main June 4 Rocky Shimpo story concerned the JACL district office’s opening in downtown Denver to serve the organization’s expanding needs in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. On July 7, the paper conveyed proof of the JACL’s growing strength through a story about a meeting at which Joe Grant Masaoka informed potential members of the League’s public relations efforts, new credit union, and legislative activities to ameliorate Nisei discrimination.

Omura tried putting a positive spin on his life in Denver. Usually he tried too hard, and it showed in embarrassing ways, as with the August 9, 1943, Rocky Shimpo article “Caryl’s is Sold to Virginia Couple.” This anonymous contribution was clearly Omura’s handiwork. “In the Evacuation Period’s most astounding transaction,” it ran, “the widely-known Caryl’s Malt & Sandwich Shop changed hands on August 2, going to the highest bidder… The sale…is unquestionably the shrewdest deal put across by Miss Okuma.”

Four decades hence Omura recalled what this show of bravado had masked: “With all the problems we were having, we were going downhill financially.” Moreover, the Okuma-Omura marriage was “deteriorating.” Putting his anti-JACL campaign on hold, Omura took a gardening position and his wife became a “schoolgirl” and enrolled at Denver University.2

That 1943 winter Omura assumed a war industry trainee position he later described as “killing me physically.”3 So when the Rocky Shimpo invited him back at the start of 1944 to be its English-section editor and public contact agent, he readily complied. Soon the draft issue exploded at Heart Mountain, and Omura launched the editorial series constituting arguably the most courageous and significant Nikkei journalistic writing ever produced. Omura relates this complex story in detail within his unpublished memoir, but its contours warrant coverage here.4

As noted, a year before he became the Rocky Shimpo’s editor, Omura contested the JACL-supported Nisei combat unit. He did so chiefly because it was to be segregated and, therefore, a symbol of racism. Omura’s 1944 Rocky Shimpo appointment came on the heels of Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s announcement about Nisei draft resumption. This was another policy Omura believed the JACL had urged upon the government. When it caused the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC) to mushroom, Omura opened the Rocky Shimpo to the FPC for news releases.

Then, on February 28, Omura wrote his first editorial about draft reinstitution and the reaction to it by those detained in WRA camps. His concern at this point was not Heart Mountain, but the actions taken at the Granada, Colorado, and Minidoka, Idaho, centers. There draft resistance had been sporadic and punctuated with denunciations of democracy and avowals of expatriation to Japan. Whereas Omura believed the government should restore a large share of the Nisei’s constitutional rights before asking them to sacrifice their lives in battle, he would not condone impulsive and irresponsible draft resistance.5

It quickly became plain to Omura that the FPC represented an organized draft resistance movement dedicated to the principle that citizen Japanese should do their duty as Americans, equally, but not before being treated equally by the U.S. government. Thereafter his editorials supported the FPC not as an organization but solely on the issue of restoration as a prelude to induction. That the Heart Mountain Sentinel, the camp newspaper, was staunchly pro-JACL (and, as such, censorious of the FPC for placing Japanese American loyalty and patriotism at risk) added fuel to Omura’s fiery editorials. These gained members for the FPC and dramatically increased Rocky Shimpo sales in Heart Mountain and the other camps (where Omura believed the overwhelming majority of those detained there were opposed to the JACL).6

But Omura’s hard-hitting editorials also caused the government, facilitated by the WRA and the JACL, to force his resignation in late April of 1944, after which he was replaced by the actively pro-JACL Roy Takeno. Then, on May 10, the Grand Jurors of Wyoming secretly indicted him along with the seven FPC leaders. On July 20 Omura was arrested and jailed for unlawful conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet violations of the draft. In early November, at their joint jury trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while the FPC leaders were found guilty and sentenced to federal imprisonment, Omura was acquitted.

But acquittal did not mean vindication for Omura insofar as the Japanese American community in the Denver region (and even beyond) was concerned. The community had cold shouldered him at the time of his arrest and stymied the defense fund being raised for him. One solicitor was gang-beaten in a Denver alley at night, while the Fort Lupton JACL chapter president, threatening bodily harm, warned another solicitor against seeking donations in outlying agricultural areas. Also, when Omura sought employment after the courts cleared him, JACL Nisei harassed and hounded him, so that he had “a hell of a time finding a job.”7 Eventually he settled into a landscape gardener job, but not before his impoverishment had so dampened his marriage as to bring about divorce in 1947.

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1. See Omura’s revealing letter to his brother, Kazushi Matsumoto, dated 1 January 1945, James Omura Papers: “The F.B.I. is shooting in the dark when it attempts to dress me in the garb of communism. I have been a militant foe of Nisei communism.… It wasn’t much over a year ago that I attacked the editor of the Pacific Citizen for his left-wing affiliations. This prompted a threat of a libel suit from Lawrence Tajiri.”
2. Omura to Hansen, “Resisters,” 284.
3. Ibid.
4. The present author is editing this autobiographical manuscript of Omura’s for future publication as “Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Newsman Jimmie Omura.”
5. This editorial, “Let Us Not Be Rash,” is reproduced in Omura, “Japanese American Journalism During World War II,” 78.
6. According to Omura, in Omura to Hansen, “Resisters,” 287, a contemporary FBI report noted that “before I [Omura] took over they [the Rocky Shimpo] had only about 500 subscribers at Heart Mountain, and that after I took over and started the editorials, the number of subscribers zoomed to 1,200.”
7. Ibid, 314.

* Arthur A. Hansen, “Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory” in Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura, eds. Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005, pp. 278-307.

@ 2005 by the University of Washington Press

jacl James Omura newspapers ournalism pacific citizen World War II