Now online: the Fair Play Committee files from the National Archives

This year we observe the 80th anniversary of the trial of 63 members of the Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain for draft resistance, and the subsequent trial of the FPC steering committee for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion. Now, thanks to six years of work by staff of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, we are able to view online the personal WRA files kept on those members of the largest organized resistance to incarceration, the story documented in our PBS film, Conscience and the Constitution. You can see the files by opening the box below:

Heart Mountain Draft Resisters

two people outside National Archives building
Dakota Russell and Danielle McAdams at the National Archives, Oct. 2018. (photo by Julie Abo)

Starting in October 2018, then-HMWF Executive Director Dakota Russell and then-Collections Manager Danielle McAdams brought their trusty Epson scanner to the National Archives in Washington, DC, and began the laborious work of manually opening and digitizing the paper files of the FPC members.

They worked with Erin Aoyama, Mason Moran, and Ray Locker to write many of the biographies shared online. Ray also made one final trip to the Archives to pick up scans of some remaining files. Graphics and design director Kate Wilson created the website and put the rest of it together.

Shigeru Fujii headshotSeveral of the biographies include photographs, like this one for 26-year-old Shig Fujii, taken for their Citizens Leave Permits for Work Group to go help save the sugar beet harvest in Idaho Falls in the year before the draft was reinstituted for the Nisei in camp.

It will take some time to read and digest all the new material here, but this is a remarkable treasure trove and a welcome supplement to the information on our PBS website on the Fair Play Committee. Observes Julie Abo, who assisted the project, “It was so interesting to find that in the files we pulled, no one had replied ‘No-No.'”

And look for a reprint of FPC “Bulletin No. 3” in The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration, under the title, “We Hereby Refuse … In Order to Contest the Issue,” along with a chapter entitled “Fair Play Committee” from Yosh Kuromiya’s recent memoir, and a singing of the jailhouse “Song of Cheyenne,” coming May 14 from Penguin Classics. Actors Keone Young and Greg Watanabe read and sing them for the audiobook, and we’re looking forward to hearing it.

Here is the Foundation’s news release:

WRA files of Heart Mountain draft resisters now available

Government records for the Heart Mountain incarcerees who resisted the draft during World War II are now available for family members, researchers and the general public on the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation website.

These files include interviews with camp and FBI officials, details about the incarcerees and their families and the loyalty questionnaires in which many of the men detailed their reasons for resisting the draft.

During two trials in 1944, the more than 80 men were tried, convicted and sentenced to terms in federal prison. Older resisters were imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., while the majority were sent to the penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington.

The files were scanned, organized and stored thanks to a grant from the Japanese American Confinement Sites program of the National Park Service. The Foundation is developing educational materials to help teachers and students use the files as primary sources in teaching about the Japanese American incarceration.

Doug Nelson, the Foundation’s vice chair, who wrote the earliest history of Heart Mountain, described the actions and convictions of the resisters as “a movement that illuminated the profound complexity of the Japanese American response to the trauma of incarceration. While most young men at Heart Mountain accepted the call to serve as a way of demonstrating their unflagging loyalty to country, a significant minority saw resistance to the draft as a moral duty to protest the violation of their fundamental rights as American citizens. What is most remarkable in these two vastly different responses is that both were rooted in patriotism, and each required great courage.’”

This project is the first that takes the files of the draft resisters and makes them available to the wider public. Researchers previously had to travel to the National Archives in Washington to access the files or go through the sometimes-lengthy process of applying for them online, paying fees and waiting months for them to appear.

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation preserves the site where some 14,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated in Wyoming from 1942 through 1945. Their stories are told within the foundation’s museum, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, located between Cody and Powell. For more information, call the center at (307) 754-8000 or email [email protected].

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