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Leonard Broom (AKA Leonard Bloom): Scholar/Activist and Defender of Japanese Americans - Part 1

As is well known, in the wake of Executive Order 9066 and the roundup and confinement of West Coast Japanese Americans, a group of scholars and researchers at University of California, Berkeley created the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study, a multidisciplinary academic study on the migration, confinement, and resettlement of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The project, directed by sociologist Dorothy Swaine Thomas, received extensive funds through the University of California as well as from several private foundations. As a result, JERS was able to engage a large team of field researchers, Nisei and others, who worked in the camps compiling data. The JERS resulted in a number of publications after the war, including the books The Spoilage (1946), directed by Thomas and Richard Nishimoto; The Salvage (1952), headed by Thomas; and Jacobus tenBroek, Edward N. Barnhart, and Floyd Matson’s Prejudice, War, and the Constitution (1954). In recent decades, Peter Suzuki and other researchers have criticized JERS for its researchers’ ethical lapses and for the collusion between its staffers and the War Relocation Authority.

What is less known is that during the war years there was a separate academic project on Japanese American “evacuation” and confinement, one that operated from UCLA. Like JERS, it operated through the war years and resulted in important publications. Unlike JERS, however, it was run entirely out of a single department (Sociology), had no large staff or administration, and worked off a budget that was tiny in comparison. What is more, nobody could accuse its director of collusion with the WRA, which he viewed with a self-described “jaundiced eye.” Instead, he advocated for the rights of Japanese Americans during and after the war. For the UCLA project was the Japanese American Family Study, and its director was the remarkable scholar-activist Dr. Leonard Bloom (later known as Leonard Broom).

Leonard Bloom was born in Boston, the second of two sons of Benjamin and Mildred Bloom. He grew up in Boston’s Jewish community. During the mid-1930s, Bloom attended Boston University, where he was a student athlete, served on the college debating team and worked as a reporter for the BU News. After completing a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at BU, he obtained a PhD in sociology from Duke University in 1937, while still only in his mid-20s. Bloom thereafter held short-term appointments at Clemson University (1937-38) and Kent State University (1938-41).

In fall 1941, Bloom was hired by University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). It may have been only designed as a temporary appointment at first, as he took a leave from Kent State and did not cut his ties there. Whatever the case, it soon opened into a tenure-track appointment. Bloom was the only second sociologist appointed to UCLA’s then newly-established department of sociology and anthropology.

From the outset of his career, Broom maintained a strong research interest in social differentiation and stratification, and in studying the impact of government policies on diverse ethnic and racial minorities.

His PhD dissertation, on The Acculturation of the Eastern Cherokee, discussed the history and culture of the Cherokee nation in the South. While Bloom did not publish the text in book form, he spun off several related articles. Most notable among them was his 1940 article in Social Forces entitled, “Role of the Indian in the Race Relations Complex of the South.” It called attention to the tripartite racial structure of the American South and its implications for studying American race relations. Similarly, “The Acculturation of the Eastern Cherokee: Historical Aspects,” which appeared in The North Carolina Historical Review in 1942, gave a chronological account of shifts in Cherokee culture following contact with other groups.

Meanwhile, Bloom contributed a chapter, “The American Scene: The Jews of Buna,” to the 1941 anthology, Jews in a Gentile World. It discussed the social and economic integration of the Jewish population in a midwestern town [based on Akron, Ohio], and the ability of the Jews to integrate into the larger population. During this time, Bloom also expressed interest in the condition of African Americans. In a letter to a professional journal, he recommended the US government propaganda film “The Negro Soldier” as a tool for sociological teaching and research.

From page 3 of the Manzanar Free Press, August 31, 1942. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Soon after Bloom arrived at UCLA, his Japanese American students were forced to leave school and were rounded up by the Army under Executive Order 9066. Bloom decided to launch a “longitudinal” study of how Japanese American family life was impacted by the “evacuation.” He seems to have started up work quickly: In its August 31, 1942 issue, the Manzanar Free Press reported that Ruth Riemer of UCLA, a graduate research assistant to Dr. Bloom, had visited Manzanar to help do interviews for the family study, one which the article added, “will be a longer term project to continue through and after the war.” Similarly, in July 1945 the Rockii Shimpo reported that Riemer had spent several days at Amache doing research on inmate families as part of a three-year comprehensive research project directed by Bloom.

Shortly after, Bloom started producing what would become a set of articles. The first one,"Familial Problems and the Japanese Removal," he initially gave as a paper at the Pacific Sociological Society meeting in 1942, and then published in the conference proceedings. “Familial Adjustments of Japanese-Americans to Relocation: First Phase,” a more substantial work, appeared in the American Sociological Review in mid-1943. It was one of the earliest scholarly articles on the impact of confinement in Japanese Americans, and in particular the shift in the family relations caused by Nisei children spending their days and mealtimes separate from their family group. Bloom followed this with "Transitional Adjustments of Japanese American Families to Relocation," which appeared in the American Sociological Review in 1947.

Bloom and Riemer meanwhile embarked on a second survey, regarding public opinion. They made up a detailed questionnaire regarding attitudes of college and university students towards Japanese Americans and their right to return to their homes on the West Coast. During the first half of 1943, they sent their questionnaire to students in institutions in various locations. Within a few months the questionnaire was answered by 2,647 students at 17 colleges, predominantly on the Pacific Coast and in the Middle West.

Bloom’s research, as well as the visible impact of mass confinement on the lives of his Japanese American students, made him an early critic of the government’s policy. He later stated that he visited the camps, though it is unclear which camp(s) and when. He certainly was in contact with various inmates. In November 1942, Bloom sent a letter to the newly-founded newspaper Heart Mountain Sentinel, offering their staff his good wishes for the success of the publication.

Perhaps Bloom’s most significant intervention during the war years in favor of the rights of Japanese Americans came in May 1944 when he participated in a round discussion over KNX radio chaired by Professor Wallace Sterling of Caltech, and devoted to the question, "Should the Evacuated Japanese be Allowed to Return?" Bloom, along with A. L. Wirin, attorney for the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, upheld the right of the Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast, while William Haughton, state commander of the American Legion, and State Senator Jack B. Tenney of Los Angeles opposed the restoration of full citizenship rights to loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry before the end of the war.

In the course of a discussion regarding public attitudes toward Japanese Americans, Bloom referred to his poll of college students, and noted that only 14 per cent of those surveyed nationally had opposed the return of Japanese Americans to the homes. He and Wirin challenged Tenney's statement that "there is no way to tell a loyal from disloyal person of Japanese ancestry," as well as Tenney's use of the false accusation that the Japanese military had used "American-trained aviators” in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast was lifted, Bloom continued both his scholarship and his advocacy. He and Ruth Riemer discussed the finding of their college student survey in “Attitudes of College Students Toward Japanese-Americans,” which appeared in the May 1945 issue of the journal Sociometry.

Meanwhile, Bloom helped create a new series with University of California Press entitled Publications in Culture and Society, and sat on its editorial board. It was designed to present articles and monographic works in the general fields of anthropology, psychology and sociology. In January 1945 he brought out Volume I, Number I, of the new series, “Marriages of Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles County : a Statistical Study”, which he cowrote with Reimer and Carol F. Creedon. A second monograph, “A Controlled Attitude-Tension Survey,” based on a poll taken in September I945 of popular attitudes toward Americans of Japanese ancestry in Los Angeles, appeared with the series in 1948.

Bloom also discussed the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans in a series of book reviews and commentaries in the American Sociological Review and other publications, as well as an article, "Fair Play For the Nisei," that appeared in the November 17, 1945, issue of The Nation. In these pieces, Bloom recommended assistance to Japanese Americans and protection of their rights. He also forthrightly criticized government policy. In a commentary on remarks by Dr. John H. Provinse, head of the WRA’s Community Management Division, at the American Sociological Society, Bloom asserted, “The camps had the flimsiest economic base. They made a limited use of manpower. The chief occupation was idleness. The age structure of the population was progressively abnormal….The external controls were expressions of a police state. The internal controls were those of a pathetically pliable bureaucracy which was as vulnerable as the people it manipulated and which reacted more weakly.”

Bloom’s activism on behalf of Japanese Americans, as well as his involvement with left-leaning groups such as the Writers Congress and the People’s Education Center, a labor school where he volunteered to give lectures, led to his being called to testify by the State of California’s Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities (led by the same State Senator Jack Tenney whom he had debated in 1944). Bloom, along with several other members of the UCLA faculty, testified before the committee in January 1946. However, his efforts also earned him an invitation to participate in the development of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then in preparation.

To be continued...


© 2020 Greg Robinson

activist Leonard Bloom UCLA World War II