City of Seattle dismisses all employees of Japanese descent on March 20, 1942.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 11/21/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3637
On March 20, 1942, the City of Seattle dismisses five persons employed by the Department of Lighting because of their Japanese descent. The firings follow President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066, which sets in motion the expulsion of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to 10 inland prison camps. Forty-two years later, in 1984, the City passes an ordinance which states that "in the interest of fairness, justice, and honor, The City of Seattle should make reparation to City employees of Japanese ancestry who were terminated, laid-off or dismissed from City employment pursuant to Executive Order No. 9066."

Shame

At the time, the employees felt shame for their ancestry. In 1984, Sumiko Haji Kuriyama, one of the Seattle City Light clerks who lost his job, explained:

"It is difficult to admit, but at that time I felt shame and embarrassment, rather than anger -- shame that I was of Japanese ancestry. How simple life would have been if I were a Caucasian like so many of my friends. My parents had taught me that I was an American, that the United States was my home chosen by them, and that I must be a loyal citizen ... ." (Shimabukuro).

But with the passage of time, Kuriyama felt shame at the violation of American values: "With the passage of years, with varied experiences, and with age, I look back with shame as an American that we allowed civil liberties to be taken away ..." (Shimabukuro).

Reparations

In March 1984, City council member Dolores Sibonga (b.1931) introduced Ordinance 111571, in which the City Council would make reparations, with a payment of $5,000 to each of the unjustly fired employees. The City Council passed the bill without dissent on March 5, 1984, and Seattle Mayor Charles Royer signed it the next day.


Sources: Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 87-89.

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