Japanese Assembly Center at Puyallup

. Report by the Washington Council of Churches and Religious Education. Council of Churches, Seattle. Box 15. Manuscripts and University Archives, UW Libraries.


312 Old Times Building, Seattle, Washington

The first Japanese-Americans from Seattle were evacuated to Puyallup in the last week in April, 1942, and the last of them will be leaving Puyallup for southern Idaho during the last week of August. So the life of the camp was four months, almost to a day. The Council of Churches early in April appointed Rev. E. W. Thompson as its official representative and Mr. Emery Andrews as his associate worker. In addition to these, the churches of the council have had many pastors, workers previously associated with the five Protestant Japanese churches in the city, and individual members who have played an active part and made a vital contribution to the material and spiritual welfare of their fellow citizens in the camp. In saying this, we must not overlook the fact that some people in the camp also come from Sumner, near Puyallup and from Fife, near Tacoma. People from the churches of Sumner, Fife, Puyallup, and Tacoma have also had a real share in this enterprise.

The Puyallup Assembly Center, built on the edge of the city of Puyallup is divided into four distinct areas, designated A, B, C, and D, divided not merely by high barbed wire fences but by blocks of private homes as well. Many services to the camp had to be rendered four times to reach all concerned.

Worship services and Sunday Schools have been held in each area from the first Sunday people were resident there till the last. Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Holiness first generation pastors within the camp assumed the responsibility for services in Japanese for the older people, union services in each area, large Bible study classes, well attended prayer meetings, and English classes in cooperation with the young people's program of Americanization. The churches in Seattle brought to Puyallup Bibles and hymnbooks in Japanese from the various Japanese churches. They supplied preachers in Japanese for several Sundays when such were needed. They secured the cooperation of the army in providing trucks for the transportation from Seattle of three pianos used in these services each Sunday. They also secured such articles as pulpits, draperies, and communion sets which were used in both Japanese and English services.

The Japanese American Young people had among them many capable leaders including an ordained clergyman of the Baptist Church, Rev. Tsutomu Fukuyama. But they were eager to have Caucasian preachers and so for four English services each Sunday with a few exceptions when Rev. Mr. Fukuyama preached, pastors from Seattle, Tacoma, Puyallup and Sumner came without any remuneration, and even driving their own cars in times of rubber and gasoline shortage a trip which was usually 60 miles round trip. More than fifty clergymen including Miss Apel, Executive Secretary of the Washington Council of Churches and representatives of the five Protestant Churches with active young peoples groups in the Puyallup Center (Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian) and also the Evangelical Reformed, and Christian Churches. Other denominations would gladly have shared in this service, but it was natural that the young people in the camp had closest connections with pastors of their own denominations.

Like parachute troops who are fighting almost as soon as their feet hit the ground, the young people in the Puyallup Assembly Center began setting up Sunday School the very day they landed. Working efficiently they mobilized their forces of experienced teachers, drafted new ones where necessary, adopted graded lessons, secured the supplies necessary including. story papers and work book quarterlies for each child. Very shortly they moved on to another feature, a teacher training class for the four Sunday School faculties. These were later, when the authorities permitted, merged into one training class. In all these things abundant initiative and energy came from the young people themselves but help was needed from the outside and this help was forthcoming. A considerable portion of the Sunday School supplies was paid for by the Council of Churches. Some were furnished from the supplies of individual churches. Such standard supplies from local churches came from Tacoma, Puyallup, and Seattle. In addition, the Baptist Publishing House contributed generously.

It was desired that Sunday School teachers of young people, and leaders of Sunday evening forums for young people and of midweek Bible Classes of young people should to a large extent be Caucasians. Such Teachers and leaders were secured - six regular teachers in the Sunday Schools, two teachers of the teacher training classes, and numerous leaders of forums and mid-week classes. Most of these drove in from Seattle for this purpose.

Mention should be made of the fact that earnest efforts were made to open a daily vacation church school. At the very start faculties were chosen and an intensive normal course was set up, and conducted with texts and other supplies and the leaders furnished by the Seattle Council of Churches. Despite this thorough preparation, the authorities prevented us from going ahead with this plan and it had to be abandoned.

One choir using robes and a processional and recessional and another numbering seventy voices, and a third using instrumental solos as well as their vocal selections became regular parts of their respective worship services. In addition, a number of special quartettes and special choirs sang on various occasions. These choirs were not merely groups of people singing but trained organizations taught to sing with consecrated devotion and with skilled technique. The Council of Churches made possible the purchase of music so that these choirs could have adequate material with which to work. This meant the money to buy the music and the time spent in selecting and sending it. The robes were lent by one of the Seattle churches. Bibles were also supplied to the camp - some as gifts from local churches, some as purchases of individuals in the camp of modern language editions secured with considerable difficulty and repeatedly brought to their attention.

As life in the camp began to settle down to normal these people who had always lived in comfortable homes and were now compelled to live camp style in shacks recalled many things left behind in Seattle which would help to make the situation liveable They found many needs for purchases with no access to any stores, but the canteen supplying soda water and candy bars. So a messenger and purchasing agency was set up by Council of Churches representatives and others. Some came once or twice with rifts, or purchases, and others with home possessions procured for special friends. Others came scores of times, making this friendly gesture and practical service to hundreds of individuals and families. Often this service meant much more time in Seattle spent in locating needed possessions in store rooms and church-vestry-warehouses and trunks or in shopping from store to store than in procuring a pass and delivering the articles in camp. But always it meant driving thirty miles down and thirty miles back again, and some have learned to know that road remarkably well.

Related to the five churches which were united to the Council of Churches in Seattle and to the Holiness Japanese Church were some seventeen workers, in Sumner two, and in Tacoma three. Of these about half had been missionaries to Japan and had some working knowledge of the language. These people have all devoted the major part of their time to their friends and fellow Christians in the Puyallup Center and to others there as the opportunity offered. For a brief period it was possible for these or some of them to secure passes on Sunday only to visit in the homes of the people of their churches, to pray with them, encourage them, bring greetings from friends outside and render such practical service as is mentioned in the paragraph above. Before this period, such calls were made through the wire at the various gateways: when rules once more became strict and on week days this was again resumed. Toward the close of the life of the Puyallup camp visiting rooms were setup and passes issued for people to visit in these places with friends who were called from their camp homes. All three of these methods of visitation were used vigorously by most of this group of workers most of the time.

But it should be born in mind that a much wider company of church people - church friends, neighborhood friends, business friends - came down from Seattle and other places from time to time to perpetuate the old ties and to repudiate the disgrace and ignominy which the high barbed wire symbolized.

Many in the camp had bank matters, insurance or business matters in Seattle to be attended to. Often these could not be done satisfactorily by mail. There was rent to collect, there were unsatisfactory agents to interview, there were sales or leases to be effected. In such ways as these church people were able to render assistance.

But in addition to personal problems and church programs a vigorous community life was growing up in the camp, becoming more active and more varied as the days drifted into weeks and even months. But every attempt at community activity brought stubborn problems which could not be met by people hemmed in by barbed wire. Kindergartens were set up for little children. A two or four hour a day school program was conducted after the Vacation Church School was refused. Record concerts of classical music became a Sunday evening custom. Athletic programs were provided for all ages. Moving pictures were introduced. Dances, circuses, knitting and crocheting and whittling, rug making, airplane building became the interest of this group and that. Boy Scouts and Girl Reserves got under way as active organizations in camp. Each of these activities called for supplies if not personal aid from outside. A group calling itself the Evacuees Service Council was set up to coordinate the efforts of various Seattle groups to meet some of these needs. It met regularly once a week for a considerable period of the life of the camp, concerning itself chiefly with the school and kindergarten program, but never confining itself to these. It reached out where ever there was a community need in the camp and tried to meet it. Beside the Council of Churches representative, this group included representatives from the Friends Service Committee, the Y.W.C.A., the F.O.R., the Public Schools, the Social Workers' Association, and other organizations. Without the aid of this committee the school program probably could not have been maintained, for the government authorities pointed to the season - summer vacation, and to the temporary nature of the camp, and to their budget with no provision for education or recreation, and simply shrugged their shoulders. This committee worked on a very limited budget - it was true that the camp was temporary and none of us knew how soon any present program must cease with the camp - but it had an immense amount of energy, goodwill and idealism. The result was a wide variety of necessities to community life, especially the school program reaching the camp with no cost to any on the inside. Some were given, some were begged, some were supplied at wholesale or other special rates. The resources of various city organizations were drawn upon from waste mill ends of lumber for kindergarten blocks to text books discarded this year from the public schools. Local churches shared in this enterprise and the Council of churches as such had a significant part in the deliberation, the cash expenditure and process of getting these goods collected and delivered.

Before the Camp in Puyallup opened church people were at work building a library for the camp. One local church secured $200.00 to buy out a Japanese book store so that the books might be available for a l library in Japanese for the older people. This proved ineffective during the life of the Puyallup Assembly Center, as the authorities would not allow any books in Japanese save Bibles and hymnbooks to be used in the Center. But contacts with the Public Library and elsewhere first made by this church were followed up by a Council of Churches Book Committee. Books flowed in from the Public Library, from the Public Schools, from the Church Libraries, and from individuals till the total was well over 3,000 volumes of books and a ton or two of recent magazines. Some contributors gave cash and a sprinkling of new volumes was added. Attractive reading was available in quantity. The Library organization set up in the camp maintained relations with the Public Library and effected an excellent system for recording and lending the material thus supplied.

If this is one form of Adult Education, other forms were not neglected. Health moving pictures were shown in camp. A series of lectures on Boy and Girl Relationships was given with the active cooperation of the public School authorities (incidentally, earnest church people.) And a course on Marriage was supplied by a group of university professors and clergymen and a lawyer through the cooperation of several Council of Churches departments. Another series of lectures on Current Topics was given by real authorities in each field largely secured by the Council of Churches.