“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties — but right through every human heart — and all human hearts.”Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
The Gulag Archipelago, 1974
It is often the case that the hero of the epic (he who is capable to acting on deep principle even when threatened) may live to regret the bravest of actions. There is a good chance that this stalwart soul will be ostracized or considered cowardly and even more of a chance that he or she will pay socially and financially for unpopular decisions.
It just isn’t easy to buck the crowd! But, deep in our psyche we know that the crowd isn't always right. Herein lies the fallacy in a democracy. Luckily, however, in our history, the rare individual shows us the path that should be taken. Hidden in the far corner of the Wild Apple field, is he who can stand against the crowd. He should be celebrated. Let us cherish the stalwart advocates of personal values and most of all let us applaud the champion of human rights.
Ralph Carr is virtually an unknown Governor of Colorado from 1939 to 1943 who defied popular wisdom on behalf of a hated minority. As a result his political career was terminated and, aside for a small street in Jefferson County, Colorado that is named for him, little is remembered about this man of conviction. And unfortunately, little is emulated.
Tom Noel, reknown Colorado historian, says this about Carr.
“He’s not known: he’s obscure. He’s one of our best and most heroic governors. He was someone who could defy both parties and the conventional wisdom…It’s a crime that so many people have forgotten him. He truly is one of Colorado’s greatest heroes.”
Forgotten? Not by a loyal and thankful minority. They remember. In the center of Sakura Square, a small Japanese enclave in downtown Denver, a bronze bust of Ralph Carr proudly overlooks this distinctly Oriental center. An American Caucasian honored by the Japanese? How puzzling I thought before I knew Carr's story.
Carr was a Republican governor at the time of World War II, and just three days after December 7, 1941 he took to the radio airwaves and had this to say,
”We cannot test the degree of a man’s affection for his fellows or his country by the birthplace of his grandfather.”Two months later, after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed the military to round up and remove all people of Japanese descent from the west coast, Carr addressed the people of Colorado.
"There are thousands of men and woman and children…that are regarded by some people as unfriendly. They are as loyal to American institutions as you and I. Many of them have been born here – are American citizens with no connection with or feeling of loyalty toward the customs and philosophies of Italy, Japan or German.”
At a time when states were putting up roadsigns saying "Japs don't stop here," Carr ordered every state agency and every private individual to “keep hands off.” Most states refused to have the Japanese in their states when the government set up the internment camps, but Carr allowed the federal government to establish an internment camp, Camp Ameche, to house these unfortunates. He defiantly acted against public opinion.
He shocked his neighbors by hiring a Japanese American internee from Amache as his housekeeper. She had had to interrupt her studies at the U of California and while working for Carr she was able to complete her degree at Denver University. After she graduated, Carr hired another internee. One neighbor wondered, “how he could sleep at night, knowing his family was under the same roof as a Japanese alien.”
Carr’s actions were not well received. . “Why doesn’t he act like other governors,” most Coloradoans wanted to know. As he said at a rally in 1942, “If I’m right, let’s stop making threats against the Japanese. If I’m wrong, you can oust me at the next election…”
I guess it’s no surprise that his stand on the issues cost him his political career. He lost the race for Senator to Ed C. Johnson who had wanted to have the National Guard keep the Japanese out of Colorado. What caused him to take such a politically destructive stand? His son explained that his father took things in the Constitution seriously. “that all men are created equal and have equal rights before the law.”
It’s so simple.
May such men continue to listen to the voice of their conscience.