Remembering Ralph Carr

Next Sunday, February 19, 2017, will mark the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, FDR’s directive to establish “military zones” throughout the United States for the internment of Japanese-Americans, Italian-Americans, and German-Americans.

Ralph L. Carr, governor of Colorado 1938-1942

Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr vocally opposed this measure. He was the only Western governor to welcome Japanese-Americans who were forcibly evacuated from the West Coast, and he worked tirelessly to ensure that internees were treated fairly.

Sign placed in the window of a store in Oakland, CA on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to evacuate Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. The owner, a University of California graduate, was housed in an internment camp for the duration of the war. (Library of Congress)

Japanese-Americans believed they had a friend in Colorado, and about 7,000 were resettled here, in a camp at Amache near Granada.

Amache Internment Camp, Granada, Colorado

Carr traveled around the state advocating for Japanese-Americans and explaining why it was wrong to imprison them without due process. “An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen,” he famously said. “If you harm them, you must first harm me.”

“If you harm them,
you must first harm me.”
– Ralph Carr

For his courage, Carr received hate mail and death threats. Ultimately his unpopular stance cost him his political career. In late 1942, a year when Republicans swept the political ticket across Colorado, Carr narrowly lost a Senate race to Democrat “Big” Ed Johnson, who criticized Carr’s compassion toward Japanese-Americans. Hopes that Carr might one day be a Republican candidate for vice president were dashed. He died in 1950.

Today Carr is remembered as a hero to Japanese-Americans. In 1994, Japan’s Emperor Akihito honored Carr during a visit to Colorado, and in 1999, Carr was named Colorado’s “Person of the Century” by The Denver Post. The state’s judicial center is named after him.

Bust of Ralph Carr in Denver’s Sakura Square

Carr is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver. In 1976, a bust of Carr was placed in Denver’s Sakura Square to commemorate his efforts. Its inscription reads:

In the hysteria of World War II, when others in authority forgot the noble principles that make the United States unique, Colorado’s governor Ralph L. Carr had the wisdom and courage to speak out in behalf of the persecuted Japanese American minority. “They are loyal Americans,” he said, “sharing only race with the enemy.” He welcomed them to Colorado to take part in the state’s war effort and such were the times that his forthright act may have doomed his political future. Thousands came, seeking refuge from the West Coast’s hostility, made new homes and remained to contribute much to Colorado’s civic, cultural and economic life. Those who benefited from Governor Carr’s humanity have built this monument in grateful memory of his unflinching Americanism, and as a lasting reminder that the precious democratic ideals he espoused must forever be defended against prejudice and neglect.

A plaque dedicated to Carr in the Colorado state capitol reads:

A wise, humane man, not influenced by the hysteria and bigotry directed against the Japanese-Americans during World War II. By his humanitarian efforts no Colorado resident of Japanese ancestry was deprived of his basic freedoms, and when no others would accept the evacuated West Coast Japanese, except for confinement in internment camps, Governor Carr opened the doors and welcomed them to Colorado. The spirit of his deeds will live in the hearts of all true Americans.

Here’s a superb 10-minute documentary on Carr (created by 8th graders!):

Check out these other resources on Ralph Carr and the World War II internments:

  • webpage of Camp Amache in Granada, Colorado, maintained by the Amache Preservation Society
  • organization dedicated to preserving the testimonies of Japanese-Americans unjustly incarcerated during World War II, offering firsthand accounts, historical images, and teacher resources

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