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Omura (James) personal archive
M2294  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
The James M. Omura Papers, 1912-1994, represent the life work of this influential Japanese American writer, journalist, and civil rights activist. Born on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1912, Omura worked during the 1920s and early 1930s as a laborer, until securing an editorial position with a Japanese American newspaper in Los Angeles. In 1940, Omura started up his own magazine, Current Life, which he and his wife Caryl edited until it folded during World War II. Omura became known at this time for his vociferous opposition to the forced relocation of Japanese Americans, outspoken denouncement of the Japanese American Citizens League, and editorial support of the Japanese American draft resisters. After the war, Omura left journalism to develop a successful landscaping business in Denver. He reemerged in the 1980s to participate in commemorative events relating to the evacuation and resistance movements. Given the depth and breadth of the collection, the James M. Omura Papers document the varied and dramatic history of Japanese Americans in the 20th century.
Background
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.James Matsumoto Omura (1912-1994) was a Japanese American editor and publisher. He founded the San Francisco-based publication Current Life in 1940 and later edited the Rocky Shimpo newspaper in Denver, Colorado. Omura was politically active and was an outspoken critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Extent
30.55 Linear Feet (58 manuscript boxes, 1 half box, 9 flat boxes, 1 map folder)
Restrictions
While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/spc/using-collections/permission-publish
Availability
Open for research. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Audiovisual materials are not available in original format, but have beeen reformatted to a digital use copy.