“He is one of our un­known heroes. In Amer­i­can his­tory, we have many of them: many in­di­vid­u­als who do what’s right but who are of­ten over­looked.”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul The Den­ver Post

At the height of the na­tion’s hys­te­ria about Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans af­ter the Pearl Har­bor at­tack, Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr stood up to those threat­en­ing vi­o­lence against peo­ple in­terned at the state’s con­cen­tra­tion camp on the East­ern Plains.

“If you harm them,” the Repub­li­can said in 1942, “you must first harm me.”

Carr is a shin­ing light in the painful Coloradan and Amer­i­can saga of Ja­panese in­tern­ment, who ef­fec­tively went it alone in tak­ing a moral stand that would ul­ti­mately cost him a bright po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. His­to­ri­ans say his ac­tions are one of the pre-em­i­nent ex­am­ples of a fig­ure wind­ing up on the right side of the past, and some­thing the state should be proud of.

Even to­day, Carr’s legacy lives on in Colorado as an ex­am­ple of why do­ing what’s

right is so im­por­tant, ob­servers say, pro­vid­ing what Gov. John Hick­en­looper likens to a road map on how to lead.

“He was guided by the ideals that Amer­ica stands for,” said Wil­liam Wei, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Boul­der who is an au­thor­ity on Carr’s legacy. “He is one of our un­known heroes. In Amer­i­can his­tory, we have many of them: many in­di­vid­u­als who do what’s right but who are of­ten over­looked.”

Carr was born in 1887 as the son of a miner and was raised in the state’s high­coun­try min­ing camps. He later earned his un­der­grad­u­ate and law de­grees at the Univer­sity of Colorado be­fore mov­ing to the San Luis Val­ley to prac­tice law and over­see news­pa­pers.

While in south­ern Colorado, Carr came to know the Ja­panese and Ja­pane­seAmer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties there, which were based around agri­cul­ture. He gained promi­nence while work­ing on wa­ter rights, hon­ing his be­liefs as a strong fis­cal con­ser­va­tive who was more left-lean­ing when it came to so­cial is­sues.

By 1938, he was so­licited to run as gov­er­nor on the Repub­li­can ticket and won his first two-year term, garnering praise for bal­anc­ing the state’s bud­get. He hand­ily won re-elec­tion in 1940.

Dur­ing his sec­ond term, and fol­low­ing the Ja­panese sur­prise at­tack on Pearl Har­bor in De­cem­ber 1941, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt signed Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 9066 in Fe­bru­ary 1942, clear­ing the way for the re­moval of Ja­pane­seAmer­i­cans from the West Coast. There were un­founded fears across the na­tion that some might en­gage in es­pi­onage and aid an in­va­sion of the U.S. main­land, so the fed­eral gov­ern­ment opted to send them to se­cure in­land camps in the West.

“When the War Depart­ment asked West­ern gov­er­nors about this plan to bring Ja­panese peo­ple to their states from the West Coast, Ralph Carr was the only one who said yes,” said Jason Han­son, di­rec­tor of in­ter­pre­ta­tion and re­search for His­tory Colorado. “There was al­ready a Ja­panese pop­u­la­tion in Colorado, both in Den­ver and a smaller one in the San Luis Val­ley.”

Han­son said Carr wasn’t in fa­vor of the Ja­panese in­tern­ment camps but felt it was his pa­tri­otic duty to help the na­tion in its time of need. His stance was that if Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans were go­ing to be in­terned, they should be treated fairly — and he felt Colorado could do just that. His­to­ri­ans say the Ja­panese knew they had a friend in Colorado, which helped draw many of them to the state.

“He doesn’t stop what they call at the time con­cen­tra­tion camps,” Han­son said. “He doesn’t take some moral stand where he says this is wrong and we will not al­low this to hap­pen. He says, ‘As a good Amer­i­can, if this is what the war ef­fort re­quires, Colorado will do its duty.’ ”

Carr’s ac­cep­tance of the Granada War Re­lo­ca­tion Cen­ter, also known as Camp Amache, prompted hate mail and threats. He ul­ti­mately had to travel across the state to ex­plain why it was wrong to im­prison Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans with­out due process, say­ing at one point he felt it was his duty to guide pub­lic opin­ion.

“Amer­ica is made up of men and women from the four cor­ners of the earth, of ev­ery ra­cial ori­gin and na­tion­al­ity,” Carr wrote in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in the Ja­panese-Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League news­pa­per. “It is truly the melt­ing pot of the world. There is no place here for the man who thinks that his peo­ple or those who speak his lan­guage are in turn en­ti­tled to pref­er­ence over any oth­ers.”

Ul­ti­mately, his­to­ri­ans say his po­si­tion prob­a­bly cost Carr his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. He lost his bid for Se­nate in 1942 to Demo­crat “Big” Ed John­son, who crit­i­cized Carr’s wel­com­ing of Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans in Colorado. The de­feat came in a year when Colorado Repub­li­cans vir­tu­ally swept the ticket, quash­ing the po­lit­i­cal mus­ings that Carr might one day by a vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date or more.

“At the end of the day, he paid for it,” said Wei, who is au­thor of the book “Asians in Colorado.” “When we talk about a po­lit­i­cal leader like Ralph Carr, I think it’s im­por­tant to iden­tify him with the larger is­sues, rather than just fo­cus­ing on what he did. I would like to be­lieve that if an­other group had been in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, he would have done the same thing be­cause of his be­lief in the Con­sti­tu­tion. He re­ally did be­lieve in equal­ity and jus­tice for all.”

Carr’s ac­tions have stood the test of time, mak­ing him a hero for 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.

For Gov. Hick­en­looper, Carr’s de­fi­ance is worth re­mem­ber­ing. His­to­ri­ans say Carr was the only per­son in the United States with the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to op­pose Ja­panese in­tern­ment and call it out for the trav­esty that it was.

Hick­en­looper says back in 1987 when he was strug­gling to raise money for his Wynkoop Brew­ery, he came upon Carr’s story one day af­ter be­ing re­jected by yet an­other in­vestor. Hick­en­looper found the bust of Carr in Lower Down­town Den­ver’s Sakura Square and read about Carr’s legacy.

“That day I went to the li­brary, the Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary, and looked him up,” Hick­en­looper said. “I prob­a­bly spent 2½ hours learn­ing about him. I just kind of got in­spired.”

Hick­en­looper says Carr’s legacy helped keep him go­ing and seek­ing out funds for the Wynkoop, adding that “to a cer­tain ex­tent, I owe Ralph Carr a lot.” When Hick­en­looper be­came mayor of Den­ver, he helped get the state’s ju­di­cial cen­ter build­ing named af­ter Carr, who died in 1950.

“That’s some­thing I’ve never for­got­ten and al­ways tried to em­u­late,” Hick­en­looper said of Carr’s legacy. “If some­thing re­ally mat­ters, you do it. It doesn’t mat­ter if there is go­ing to be po­lit­i­cal fall­out.”

Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary West­ern His­tory/Ge­neal­ogy Dept.

Ralph Carr in 1939 af­ter be­ing sworn in.

In 1938, Ralph Carr was so­licited to run as gov­er­nor on the Repub­li­can ticket and won his first two-year term, garnering praise for bal­anc­ing the state’s bud­get. He hand­ily won re-elec­tion in 1940.

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