"A single person can profoundly touch the lives of so many people."
December 1, 2007 1:03 AM   Subscribe

"Dear Miss Breed..." the letters begin. Clara Estelle Breed was the children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library from 1929 to 1945. When her young Japanese American patrons and their families were forced into relocation camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, Miss Breed became their penpal and their lifeline, sending them books and supplies, assisting with various requests, and "serving as a reminder of the possibility for decency and justice in a troubled world."

Fifty years later, Miss Breed passed on her collection of letters to Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada, one of her original correspondents. Ms. Yamada donated them to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The online collection includes digital facsimiles [example] of the correspondence, full transcriptions [example] of the letters, and brief biographies [example] of most of the correspondents. The site also includes home movies and oral histories.
posted by amyms (10 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
That's remarkable - a remarkable collection, remarkable correspondence, and a remarkable woman. It's wonderful she kept them, and is an excellent archiving job as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:15 AM on December 1, 2007

Fantastic find. So far, this one is my favorite; it's got the story of a supposed "riot" in one camp, as well as lots of telling detail; it's a real eye-opener:

I guess you have been hearing over the radio about the riot in Camp 1. The version I heard over the radio was quite unlike anything that I have heard in camp. The radio news stated that Mr. Wade Head, head of these camps stated that "'pro-Axis' elements, a small but well organized group, incited the people to go on strike" or something similar to that. Gee, I was amazed at this report as it was the first of this sort that I had heard. All I know is hearsay, but it comes from reliable sorces so I'll tell you our version. The first outbreak occurred about two weeks ago on a Saturday night. A band of people were so sick and tired of "Stool-pigeons" going around and listening to private conversations and getting people into trouble that they went to the homes of the "Stools" and brutally attacked them. Then, two men were picked up on charges of "Attacking with Intent to Murder." 2 They were going to be taken to Phoenix by the FBI for a hearing. The people in Camp 1 heard this and balked. They did not want these men to be taken to Phoenix and tried for two reasons: first, they did not believe these men were guilty of the charges against them; second, if taken to Phoenix they probably would not get a fair trial. The people built large bon fires near the police station and parked all night to be on guard so that the men would not be taken out when everyone was asleep. To date one man has been "unconditionally released." The other has not been released yet.

And then:

I really don't know what my philosophy is, but I'm trying awfully hard to keep it balanced in these times. Gee, one day I think one way, then the next some other way, but I try to keep my balance. /The weather has cooled down quite a bit and is rather pleasant except for occasional dust storms. We seem to be getting used to it, but still mumble./The latest rage here is artificial flower making. Most of the flowers are made out of crepe paper or orange and apple paper.

Thanks so much for this one, amyms.
posted by mediareport at 5:10 AM on December 1, 2007

Wonderful source
posted by A189Nut at 6:02 AM on December 1, 2007

A great find indeed. Here's another dramatic description of events:

On Wednesday, the army (not from Frisco, though) ordered our barracks searched for contraband. Previous to this whenever such an order was issued we were given bulletins and notified on everything. This, however, was done abruptly with no reason given and did not give the people a very good attitude toward the search. Then, they closed certain gates and would not allow the people to pass unless they were searched. This, too, aroused their anger.

Then, to top that, they began to confiscate such things as scissors and knitting needles as contraband. Then, some of the police had the nerve to steal people's money and also remove things from people's houses without allowing the occupant to see what was taken. One policeman in particular aroused the people to such a degree that they began to mob him. Incidentally a Korean was leading the men in their raid. Many people had grievances against him before as he was claimed to be a "stool pidgeon". Unfortunately the mob of people were so aroused that they chased him and beat him with chairs. This was wrong, but a mad mob is very hard to control. Incidentally this led to the discovery of liquor smuggling and jailing of some of the stewards of the mess hall. The army took control for three days and everything was at a standstill. We and also the army were glad they finally moved out. The newspapers did not give this version, but that's the way we saw it. Just a few days before the incident we were all craving for excitement, but now that it is over we are glad that it is over.

Thanks very much for the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on December 1, 2007

A great find indeed, thanks amyms.
posted by goo at 7:56 AM on December 1, 2007

Yes, thank you!!
posted by serazin at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2007

Wonderful- I'm looking forward to digging in to these.

Growing up in the Bay Area where Asian populations seem really well integrated, it's hard to believe that institutionalised anti- asian feeling was so prevalent in California, from the Gold Rush to the middle of the last century. In Hawaii where the Japanese population was much greater (about 35%), there was no Internment.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:38 PM on December 1, 2007

Another reason why the Librarian is the Most Noble Profession.

Disclaimer: My mother was a School Librarian for several years, not accredited as such, but part of an on-again-off-again teaching career. And her name was Marian.
posted by wendell at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2007

What an amazing find. Thank you!
posted by rtha at 4:17 PM on December 1, 2007

I'm happy that people liked it. I stayed up all night on Friday reading the site. I kept thinking that Miss Breed's story would make a really great movie.
posted by amyms at 2:10 AM on December 2, 2007

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