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May 5, 1942: Within days, Civilian Exclusion Orders and saying goodbye in Orange County

On the fifth anniversary of his arrival in Wintersburg Village, Reverend Sohei Kowta delivered the final sermon before he, his family, and his congregation left California for incarceration at the Colorado River Relocation Center, "Poston", in Arizona. Toshiko Furuta---the daughter of his neighbors on the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg, Charles and Yukiko Furuta---played piano for the "musical hour" of the service. (Santa Ana Register, May 5, 1942)

Seventy-five years ago, Japanese Americans in Orange County were preparing for Civilian Exclusion Order No. 60 and No. 61. These were the specific military orders from Lt. General J.L. DeWitt (following Executive Order 9066 authorized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) which directed they present themselves to the “Civil Control Station” in their region to register, prior to incarceration.

Failure to register at a Civil Control Station meant criminal penalties, “immediate apprehension and internment.” Either way, one would be incarcerated.

At the time of the final sermon of the Wintersburg Japanese Church on May 5, 1942,---then marking its 38th year in Orange County--it was not yet known where they would be going. The Civilian Exclusion Order affecting Little Tokyo in Los Angeles was already in effect and residents had been ordered to register on May 4 and 5, 1942, before being taken to the Santa Anita Racetrack for “temporary” confinement. The Santa Ana Register reported 2,100 Japanese Americans in Los Angeles County had already been taken to Santa Anita; there were 1,100 in Little Tokyo who faced impending removal and incarceration.

A classified advertisement for an "evacuation sale" of an almost 20-acre Garden Grove ranch. Small advertisements advising of sales of tractors and other farm equipment had been appearing in the Santa Ana Register and other newspapers since February, 1942, after Executive Order 9066 was announced. Most received only pennies on the dollar, a loss that would take more than a generation to recover. (Santa Ana Register, May 1, 1942)

Businesses and farms had already been selling off property and equipment, trying to find places to store their belongings. Those with land tried to find someone reputable to watch over their farm. The Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) advised Japanese Americans to sell or store vehicles indoors, to avoid deterioration. Those who had been allowed to take their vehicle to outdoor lots next to assembly or detention centers were advised after the fact that “the automobiles would not be made available to Japanese after they are evacuated..(and) will rapidly turn to scrap metal and their value will decrease materially”.

The Santa Ana Register reported on May 4, 1942, that Japanese Americans who stored their vehicles with WCCA could sell their vehicles through the Federal Reserve Bank, and in some cases, vehicles might be acquired by the Army at an “appraised value”.

The Farm Security Administration directed "squads of FSA agents move in and seek to close as many deals as possible between Japanese operators and prospective tenants". Empty farms came under FSA control. Many Japanese Americans were never able to return to their farms after World War II. (Exerpt from The Fresno Bee, Knotty Problems of Japanese Evacuation Told, May 4, 1942)

California officials had begun to realize the growing and significant loss of agricultural production and labor. The Farm Security Administration, working with the Federal Reserve Bank, reported ongoing efforts to enlist and train people to become farmers and take over vacated farms.

The early agitation of California’s Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 had restricted ownership and lease of property, with fear-mongering that Japanese immigrants would own all of California’s farmland. By 1942, land surveys showed Japanese Americans operated only two percent of all agricultural land in California, Oregon and Washington combined, which was about one third of the truck crop acreage. However, they produced 50 to 80 percent of the coastal output of vegetables. Crops were ready for harvest in May, 1942, food was needed in communities and for the war effort, and there was a growing shortage of knowledgeable farmers.

The Santa Ana Register advised residents to prepare for Orange County's two Civilian Exclusion Orders. The Orders applied to anyone of Japanese ancestry, including U.S.-born citizens and those with mixed heritage that included Japanese ancestry. Mandatory registration was designated at Civilian Control Stations in Anaheim and Huntington Beach, the specific locations to be announced in the Orders. (Santa Ana Register, May 7, 1942)

The five-mile travel limit restricted many from coming to the Wintersburg Japanese Church, where the community gathered one last time before leaving for an unknown future for an unknown period of time. No one knew for certain if they would be in the same camp or when they would see each other again. In the final sermon of Reverend Kowta--before the Church and Mission buildings were boarded up--he spoke of Moses.

ABOVE: During the month of May, 1930, almost twelve years to the day before the Japanese American community was forcibly removed from Orange County on May 17, 1942, the Wintersburg Japanese Mission officially became a Church. Founded by an interfaith group in 1904, it already was one of the oldest Japanese missions in California, supporting the four Japanese Language Schools in Garden Grove, Talbert, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach. (Santa Ana Register, May 19, 1930)

Whenever we think of a great migration under a great leader, we think of Moses...But, I believe that even Moses, if he were here with us today, would not be able to do much for our people,” said Kowta, whose final sermon was included in a 1945 collection of sermons by Japanese American clergy entitled, The Sunday Before. “At the words of Moses, the mighty Egyptian king trembled and yielded to the demand. But today, conditions are different. We Japanese are not expected to make demands of the Army that is in control of our affairs. We are simply asked to obey and cooperate with whatever the Army commands us to do.”

Within days, the Civilian Exclusion Orders from the headquarters of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army at the Presidio in San Francisco would appear as handbills on telephone poles and in post offices. The Japanese American community in Orange County would finally know what the Army commanded.

 

*This article was originally published on the Historic Wintersburg blog on May 5, 2017.

 

© 2017 Mary Urashima

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