Monday, December 7, 2015

Branch Rickey Jr. reaching out to Japanese Americans

In February of 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration of people with Japanese ancestry.  Over 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced into interior camps in the Continental United States.

To pass the time sporting events were offered, with several teams popping up at each camp.

Baseball game, Manzanar Relocation Center, Calif. / photograph by Ansel Adams.
Part of the Manzanar War Relocation Center photographs collection at the Library of Congress

Somehow word got back to Branch Rickey Jr. that there were some quality players in the camps.

In a letter originally sent to Mr. Ira Holland in the School Health and Physical Education Department, Branch Rickey Jr. writes:
Dear Mr. Holland,
We will be most happy to have any boys that you might recommend in our baseball camps this summer if any of these boys have sufficient ability to play professional baseball, we will, of course, recommend them just as we would any other young man. The fact that these boys are American boys is good enough for the Brooklyn Club. Whether they are of Japanese, English, or of Polish ancestry makes no difference to us and I know that these boys would be treated with the greatest courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the camps which we run this summer will not be too close to McGehee, Arkansas. Our nearest camp may be in Oklahoma somewhere around the latter part of August. We will hold camps in Des Moines, Iowa, Omaha, Neb., for these. There may also be a possibility that later in the summer we may conduct a camp at Little Rock, Ark. At any rate, if any of the boys are able to attend any of these camps we would be more than happy to have them.
Very Truly yours,
Branch Rickey Jr.
This letter comes from the Sports and recreation in camp section of the Densho Encyclopedia.

The letter was condensed and was mentioned in the Topaz Times of July 29, 1943.  This was a tri-weekly newspaper that served the Topaz camp in Utah.

Topaz Times - July 29, 1943
image from

From the same paper there are other mentions of baseball in the camps, along with a stories about golf and archery.  Gila is Gila River Camp in Arizona.  Tule Lake was located in California

Mr. Rickey sought (and gained) approval from the Dodgers Board of Directors in 1943 to begin the search for "the right man."  It is possible that the "right man" could have been of Japanese ancestry instead of Jackie Robinson.