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A ‘community study’ of Minidoka

During the May 1995 symposium that Mike Mackey organized in Powell, Wyoming on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans at the nearby Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Mackey toured Bob Sims (1936-2015) and me around Powell. One topic we three non-Nikkei historians of the Japanese American wartime incarceration (all beholden to Roger Daniels) discussed on that occasion was our common burning desire to write a narrative history of a particular War Relocation Authority-administered concentration camp: Mackey of Heart Mountain, me of Manzanar in California, and Sims of Minidoka in Idaho.

Only Mackey’s dream came true when, in 2000, he published his work Heart Mountain: Life in Wyoming’s Concentration Camp. My ambition was derailed by other more pressing projects. In Sims’ case, as disclosed by his widow, Betty Sims, in her superb introductory essay in An Eye for Justice: Robert C. Sims and Minidoka, the principal stumbling block for realizing his goal was “serious health issues for the last twenty years of his life” (p. xx).

It is altogether fitting, therefore, that Susan Stacy should have responded with alacrity to Betty Sims’ request, after her husband’s death from prostate cancer, to review the archive in his name established by his family at Boise State University — consisting of historical documentation amassed by Sims on the Minidoka Relocation Center over 40 years — before ascertaining how best to make available to posterity his exemplary achievement as Minidoka’s foremost scholar. What emerged from this process, is the expertly edited book by Stacy here under review, replete with strategically placed maps, photos and illustrations, pertinent appendixes, and a useful bibliography of sources.

The lion’s share of An Eye for Injustice is the first part of this three-part volume covering 160 pages. The articles and talks by Sims within this section afford almost equal attention to the Japanese American experience in Idaho, highlighted by the xenophobic, racist, and hypocritical actions of Chase Clark (both as the state’s governor and as a federal judge), as they do to the imprisoned Nikkei population at Minidoka. All of these items testify to Bob Sims’ intense dedication to human decency, multiculturalism, civil liberties, and social justice. Moreover, they are epitomized by his membership on the Friends of Minidoka board, his pivotal role in that group’s establishment of an annual Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium, and his strategic efforts on behalf of Minidoka being designated as a unit of the National Park Service.

Fortuitously, Susan Stacy has seen fit to include in An Eye for Injustice how Bob Sims envisioned the book on Minidoka that he would never write: “a community study … analyzing the history of the group from the time of its forced removal from their homes, through … the assembly centers (Puyallup and North Portland) … , the wartime experience in camp and the variety of experiences in relocation, and finally, the return to the West Coast and the efforts to establish their former ‘communities.’” (p. 143).

The prodigious editorial gift that Stacy has given to potential readers is to fashion a book that is as true to this vision as possible.

Edited by Susan M. Stacy
(Pullman, Wash.: Washington State University Press, 2020, 246 pp., $21.95, paperback)


*This article was originally published on the Nichi Bei Weekly on January 1, 2021. 


© 2021 Author A. Hansen / Nichi Bei Weekly

An Eye for Injustice minidoka Robert C. Sims