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The James M. Omura papers, 1912-1994, represent the life work of this influential Japanese American writer, journalist, and civil rights activist.
James Matsumoto Omura was born Utaka Matsumoto on November 27, 1912, on Bainbridge Island, Washington. His father had immigrated illegally to escape conscription into the Japanese army and had assumed the name Matsumoto to avoid detection. James Omura grew up in the small town of Winslow, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. He dropped out of school at thirteen in search of adventure in Alaska, where he found employment in the salmon canneries. From 1926 to 1929, Omura worked in the canneries, sawmills, and on the railroads in various western states before returning to Seattle. After trying unsuccessfully to get work as a reporter on the Japanese American Courier, Omura returned to school and earned his high school diploma. After graduation, Omura moved south to Los Angeles in 1933, where he took a job as the English-language editor of the Shin-Nichibei [New Japanese American News]. Three years later, he headed north and was offered a position in San Francisco as the English-language editor of the Shin Sekai Shimbun [New World Daily News]. During his tenure at that paper, some of his editorials evidently gave offense to the leaders of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Omura found himself shunned by certain members of San Francisco's Issei community, and this situation foreshadowed his chilly relations with JACL members in the 1940s and beyond. Soon after the paper merged with the Hokubei Asahi to become the Shin Sekai-Asahi Shimbun [New World Sun], Omura quit his job and began another long stretch of temporary positions, including stints as a migrant farm worker, tractor operator, and warehouse worker in central and northern California. By 1940, Omura has saved sufficient funds to launch his own magazine Current Life. After marrying and settling down in San Francisco, Omura and his first wife Caryl worked together to produce the magazine, which focused on social issues and cultural affairs of interest to the Nikkei [Japanese American] community. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Omura attracted public attention during February 1942 by his testimony at the Tolan Committee hearings in San Francisco. Not only was he the sole Japanese American not affiliated with the JACL to testify at these hearings related to the mass eviction of Nikkei from the West Coast, but the only spokesman who protested this public policy. In March 1942 Jimmie and Caryl relocated to the "free zone" state of Colorado and there tried unsuccessfully to continue publishing Current Life. After the magazine folded, Omura opened an employment agency to assist other Japanese Americans who had voluntarily relocated in Denver and other Rocky Mountain communities. Although he had been unable to prevent the relocation process, Omura continued to speak out on behalf of other Japanese Americans, most notably for those who resisted the government's plan in early 1944 to draft Nisei from the camps. As English editor of the Denver-based Rocky Shimpo, Omura wrote a series of controversial editorials supporting the stand of the draft resisters within the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. As a result of his strong public pronouncements, Omura was brought to trial for conspiring with the FPC leadership to aid and abet the violation of the Selective Service Act. Unlike his convicted co-defendants, however, Omura was exonerated on the constitutional grounds of freedom of the press. In the post-World War II years, Omura received little attention for his efforts to preserve the civil rights of Japanese Americans. Living in obscurity and relative isolation from the Japanese American community, Omura supported himself as a landscape gardener in Denver, Colorado. During the 1980s when the push for redress and reparations for Japanese American camp survivors was brought to national awareness, Omura reemerged as a writer and significant resource for those interested in the wartime resistance movement. Omura received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian American Journalists Association in 1989 in recognition of his commitment to free speech in the crucible of war. Omura continued to receive honors bestowed by other organizations recognizing his courageous efforts in support of Nisei draft resistance and respect for individual conscience during World War II. He was engaged in writing his memoir at the time of his death on June 20, 1994.
30.55 Linear Feet (58 manuscript boxes, 1 half box, 9 flat boxes, 1 map folder)
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