Internment Actions Warrant Overdue Apologies both from The Oregonian and Portland City Hall
Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 by Franklin D. Roosevelt that resulted in the ethnic cleansing and imprisonment of more than 120,000 Americans and their families of Japanese descent for the duration of WWII.
As part of that effort, a concentration camp was created in Portland and operated at the present-day Expo Center, the former home of a livestock yard. An estimated 4,000 men, women, children and seniors were fed through the hastily constructed barrack detention center ringed by barbed wire and armed federal soldiers between May and September 1942. Everyone was then relocated by dedicated trains for internal exile at sprawling desert prison wasteland compounds in the Western states for the duration of the war.
I just want to emphasize the point that in addition to a lot of birds, Bernie and otherwise, good ole hipster Portlandia has the rare distinction of having hosted its very own concentration camp, an ethnic cleansing assembly center, if you will.
Funny thing is, the good folks within Portland City Hall have never taken the time and effort to rescind official resolutions in support of the immediate mass removal of the entire local Japanese-American community, proud American citizens and their families. See a detailed account at
That, and the editorial crew at the major daily Oregonian newspaper have likewise never owned up to its unusually vehement campaign to spearhead the internments by an explicit editorial, as well as publisher/editor Palmer Hoyt’s personal appearance in front of US Congressional Tolan Committee hearings in Portland where he presented the editorial into the official proceedings, answered questions and lobbied for the internments apparently to head off the bizarre possibility of a group from the Japanese-American community who might attempt to start massive arson fires in the Oregon timberlands that were considered vital materiale in the war effort. See more about this chapter at
Incredibly, The Oregonian has recently published two articles for the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 dealing with the internments. One was an interview with grandparents of a staffer who were internees, but the piece had no particulars about the Portland experience. The other was a detailed interview with a former internee and Portland resident who experienced the local camp, someone whose brother actually died there.
The article by Casey Parks was fine regarding the internee account. However, the article contained nothing about the role the newspaper played in the internment campaign, or the role of the city government. When I pointed out these ridiculous omissions that only help to whitewash the role of Portland’s municipal government and the main media outlet, her newspaper, I received the following reply on Facebook from Parks: “Lawrence, thank you for your comment — repeated about 40 times across the Internet today. This wasn’t an attempt to whitewash. I didn’t know about the city of Portland. But I do feel like I showed that the majority of people were complicit here — I even quoted a pretty awful Oregonian article. We also showed Oregonian headlines with the racist ‘nicknames.’ I feel like that shows pretty well that the general public, and the newspaper included, don’t have a good record on this. As for publicly apologizing, that is not up to me. Feel free to reach out to the editor of the paper to ask about the possibility of that. In the meantime, I will keep sharing the stories of those who have been disenfranched/discriminated against/marginalized in hopes that Portlanders will know this history.”
I replied, “No one is questioning the need to share the stories of the disenfranchised and marginalized. And no one is asking you personally to make any apologies. Why do you think that? What you continue to fail to understand is The Oregonian specifically led its own extraordinary campaign for internments, in printed explicit editorials and in the personal actions of its publisher/editor, not just a few scattered articles. I think that undeniable overarching effort qualifies as something immeasurably more than not having ‘a good record’ on internments. You don’t get that?! The newspaper helped lead the campaign for mass internments far beyond what you chose to recall.
“Were you even aware of “For the Tolan Committee” editorial and the Congressional committee appearance of publisher/editor Palmer Hoyt? Also, you absolutely should know what the City of Portland did against the Japanese-American community in the name of the majority of its people. How can you state “I didn’t know about the city of Portland,” like it’s not the job of a reporter writing about an internee to know the city’s specific legislative and other actions on this topic? Was that too much work for you? My God. I can’t believe you made this admission and somehow think your story is in any way adequately covered. This is a major local story still playing out over decades that you failed to address in a way that clearly displays the breadth and depth of official Portland participation in arguably the greatest example of local systemic racism that resulted in an actual ethnic cleansing of an entire minority community. You and your editors are apparently unable to understand that, and by so doing have miserably failed Portland and the nation. Portlanders will never know the extent of this nightmare chapter of our lives if they have to rely on you and The Oregonian.”
So apologies are still needed from Portland City Hall and The Oregonian for the wretched racist internment campaigns waged on behalf on the white majority at the time. The decades that have passed since these horrors started in 1942 have in no way diminished the need for real atonement, especially since many of the people on the wrong end of these life shattering nightmares are still alive.
Portland’s government and its major media outlet need to finally come clean and fully recognize their grievous actions, and offer sincere public and printed apologies.
Without these things happening, Portland’s current status as a proud Sanctuary City will continue to ring hollow in the extreme.