75 years ago, Auburn lost almost a third of its population | KUOW News and Information

75 years ago, Auburn lost almost a third of its population

May 22, 2017

Auburn, Washington, used to be an agricultural community surrounded by farmland. Many of those farms were owned by Japanese-Americans. But the internment in WWII changed everything.

Monday marks the 75th anniversary of the deadline for Japanese Americans in South King County to board trains. The journey would eventually take them to internment camps where they'd spend the rest of the war.

Tom Okura was born a couple years after the war, so he missed the worst of it. But he says a lot of family friends lost their land during the internment. His family managed to hold on to a couple acres in Auburn, thanks to a friend who protected their home while they were gone.

“There was a family named McGonigle,” Okura said. “And in a lot of the family pictures, you’ll see a white guy sitting in there, and that’s Tom McGonigle or his father. But some families – they lost everything.”

Okukra told another story about Gordon Hirabayashi, a student from an Auburn farming family who refused to go to the camp. He went to jail instead.

“To do what he did ... Oh, God," Okura said. "I wouldn't have done it. Whether you thought it was right or not, who's got the guts to do it?”

Tom Okura describes how the internment effected his family.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the internment in February. But today is the day Auburn lost almost a third of its population to the order. That’s why the City of Auburn declared May 22 “Never Again - Executive Order 9066 Day.”

In 1982, a congressionally appointed commission found the internment could not be justified strategically. Instead, the commission said the plan had been driven by “race prejudice, wartime hysteria and failure of political leadership.”