Greg Robinson

Greg Robinson, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal, a French-language institution in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of the books By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001), A Tragedy of Democracy; Japanese Confinement in North America (Columbia University Press, 2009), After Camp: Portraits in Postwar Japanese Life and Politics (University of California Press, 2012), Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era (University of Illinois Press, 2012), and The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016), as well as coeditor of the anthology Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road (University of Washington Press, 2008). Robinson is also coeditor of the volume John Okada - The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018). His historical column “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great,” is a well-known feature of the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper. Robinson’s latest book is an anthology of his columns, The Unsung Great: Portraits of Extraordinary Japanese Americans (University of Washington Press, 2020). He can be reached at robinson.greg@uqam.ca.

Updated July 2021

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Kinjiro Matsudaira: Mayor of Edmonston, Maryland

In the pre-World War II years, mainland Japanese Americans were all but absent from electoral office. Whereas in Hawaii there were Nisei representatives in the Territorial Assembly and even a Senator, Sanji Abe, those living elsewhere found endemic anti-Japanese prejudice an effective barrier to even running for elected office, though a few West Coast Nisei such as Clarence Arai and Karl Yoneda launched campaigns.

After World War II, a wave of Japanese American politicians rose to prominence as part of the changing dynamics of politics in the West. James Kanno was elected mayor of Fountain Valley in 1957, while in …

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‘One mistaken and semi-Fascist regulation’ : The Debate over McGill University’s Wartime Exclusion of Japanese Canadians

One remarkable story that comes out of the wartime removal and dispossession of Japanese Canadians is that of their exclusion at McGill University. In fall 1944, McGill, the historic university in Montreal, became the first Canadian institution of higher education officially to close its doors to Japanese Canadian students. Its action sparked widespread opposition, and led to the first visible public protest during the wartime period by non-Japanese Canadians on behalf of the citizenship rights of the Nisei. (While Tess Elsworthy’s recent McGill MA thesis, “McGill University’s Racial Exclusion of Japanese Students, 1943-1945” gives the definitive account of this story, …

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Laying Down the Law of Love: The 1936 American Tour of Toyohiko Kagawa

It was the middle of December 1935. The Nippon Yusen liner Asama Maru had just concluded a fourteen-day voyage. After leaving Yokohama and stopping at a port of call in Honolulu, it arrived in San Francisco. As Asama Maru sailed into San Francisco Bay, its 800 passengers looked on, no doubt thinking of the ventures and reunions that lay ahead. Among the crowd on deck was a 47 year-old Japanese man whose entry into the United States was unexpectedly halted. He was discovered to have trachoma—an infection of the eye that, if untreated, leads to inflammation and blindness—and was summarily …

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How fair is “Fair Enough?” Westbrook Pegler and Japanese Americans - Part 2

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On May 4, 1943, a few days after his two columns on Japanese Americans appeared in print (and less than two weeks after Eleanor Roosevelt’s tour of the same camp) Pegler came to Gila River. Afterwards, Pegler wrote in his May 6, 1943 column that conditions were austere and trying, but asserted that many Japanese Americans – specifically Kibei - were disloyal and “savages like the Japanese soldier.” He cited a rumor spread by a nurse at the Gila River hospital that patients had cheered when reports came from Japan that airmen who had been captured …

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How fair is “Fair Enough?” Westbrook Pegler and Japanese Americans - Part 1

On March 28, 1945, the Manzanar Free Press ran a remarkable article relating to Japanese Americans. In discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Korematsu vs. United States, the text cited the noted (and notorious) newspaperman Westbrook Pegler, who had proclaimed in his nationally syndicated column “Fair Enough” that Fred Korematsu had been convicted for violating a rule issued by “a lieutenant-general”—referring to General John DeWitt –“but (who) might as well have been a corporal.” In addition to lambasting DeWitt for incompetence, Pegler criticized Justice Felix Frankfurter for the court’s decision, stating that Frankfurter, as “an …

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