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St. Paul Resettlement Committee helped bring Japanese Americans to Minnesota in wake of World War Two camp policy

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Mrs. Thomas Yamazaki with her daughters Luanne (left) and Aveline (right) at the St. Paul Resettlement Hostel. Thomas Yamazaki worked at the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Fort Snelling. From a clipping of the St. Paul Dispatch, ca. 1946, included in the St. Paul Resettlement Committee records, 1942–1953 (Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul).

The St. Paul Resettlement Committee formed in October of 1942 to assist with the relocation of Japanese Americans from the concentration camps established by the US government in March of 1942. It was one of thirty-five such committees that operated across the country during World War II.

As early as August 1942, the International Institute of St. Paul received letters from Japanese Americans in US concentration camps who wanted to relocate to Minnesota. The Japanese American Resettlement Committee was organized at the International Institute in St. Paul soon afterward, on October 5, 1942. Bess L. Beebe was its first chair; members represented social service agencies and interfaith churches in St. Paul.

The committee helped coordinate services for Japanese Americans leaving the concentration camps, and the local YWCA and YMCA offered short-term stays for single women and men. The International Institute of St. Paul, meanwhile, assisted with housing, job, and casework services.

A War Relocation Authority branch office led by Clement White opened in Minneapolis in March of 1943. Minneapolis also started its own resettlement committee. Denominational colleges in St. Paul, including Macalester, Hamline, St. Thomas, and Bethel enrolled Japanese American students. Churches welcomed new residents, raised money, and offered jobs and housing.

The first Japanese American couple to resettle in Minnesota was Ruth and Earl Tanbara, who came from California. They relocated to Minnesota in August of 1942 with letters of introduction from their former employers and an offer of a place to stay. Ruth Tanbara worked for the St. Paul YWCA and served on the St. Paul Resettlement Committee (SPRC). She also gave talks in the community to educate residents about the resettlement process.

In March of 1945, the SPRC reorganized as an official Council of Social Agencies Committee. Its legal counsel, Warren E. Burger, assisted with leasing a second-story hotel at 191 West Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul, next door to the International Institute. The St. Paul Resettlement Hostel opened in December of 1945. Martha Magraw was the SPRC’s chair; Tomiko Ogata, a Japanese American, was its dietitian; and Elizabeth Evans, a former missionary to Japan, was its director.

The hostel had seventeen rooms; organizers planned to rent ten from the hotel for the total sum of $200 per month. They raised funds from Japanese Americans living in St. Paul, local churches, and generous community members. Japanese American soldiers at Fort Snelling volunteered their labor to paint the rooms, build a kitchen, and install furniture. The SPRC planned parties for residents and those who were soldiers in the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) at Fort Snelling.

Prior to 1940 there had been eleven Japanese living in St. Paul, with a total of about fifty living in Minnesota. By March of 1945 there were about 1,000 people of Japanese descent in the state. Of these, 350 lived in St. Paul.

In September 1946, Evans reported to the SPRC that there were “eighteen residing [at the hostel], including Mrs. Ogata and myself.” However, at a September 11, 1947, committee meeting, she reported that five rooms at the hostel were vacant. Over a two-year period, 150 people had been furnished with lodging at the hostel.

At a May 5, 1948 meeting, SPRC member Father Daisuke Kitagawa said there was “no further influx of the Japanese and he feels there is no further need of the Hostel.” There was discussion about keeping the hostel open for the “displaced persons” evacuating from Europe. However, the committee decided to let its lease on the hostel expire.

In 1949, the SPRC decided to expand the scope of its mission to help Native Americans move from reservations in Minnesota to the Twin Cities. It also helped establish the Japanese Community Center, which opened in February of 1950 and was located at 2200 Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis. However, legislation to assist in the resettlement of Native Americans did not transpire, and fundraising efforts to continue the committee did not succeed.

At the November 28, 1952, annual meeting of SPRC, a proposal for dissolution of the organization was presented and the committee voted to approve the motion. The SPRC then gave college scholarships to three Native American women and donated the remaining balance of $300 to the Japanese Community Center in Minneapolis.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 03/26/2018 - 02:48 pm.

    What a great piece of history! The people of Minnesota can and should be proud to be the heirs of people who provided help and opportunity to other people who were unjustly treated as if they were spies and saboteurs after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

  2. Submitted by Steve Nimchuk on 03/27/2018 - 07:43 am.

    There was also Camp Savage

    Just to add to the article, starting in 1942, there was Camp Savage (in Savage) that taught Japanese to American soldiers for a couple years before being moved to Fort Snelling.

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