History

Fresno JACL 1923 – 1993

THE HISTORY OF THE FRESNO AMERICAN LOYALTY LEAGUE CHAPTER OF THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CITIZENS LEAGUE

By Izumi Taniguchi

 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

The members of the Fresno Chapter of JACL con­sider its chapter as the first and oldest chapter of JACL and are very proud of that fact. The chapter has been in continuous existence since its establishment on May 5,1923, a feat that no other chapter can claim. The establishment of the Fresno American Loy­alty League is credited to one distinguished leader of the community, Dr. Thomas T. Yatabe.

Dr. Yatabe moved to Fresno in 1922 from San Fran­cisco, where he had already been active in establishing the San Francisco Chapter of the American Loyalty League. While growing up in San Francisco, Dr. Yatabe had experienced the harsh realities of racism, such as the San Francisco School District’s attempt to segregate Asian children in the schools, his friend’s father being beaten up in the street only because he was Japanese, the opposition to further immigration of Japanese to the United States culminating in the Gentleman’s Agree­ment, and the passage of the Alien Land Law in Califor­nia. These incidents convinced Dr. Yatabe that unless the broader American society is educated to recognize that the Nisei, born in the United States, are Americans and not Japanese, the future of the Nisei was very uncertain. Therefore, in the fall of 1919, with his friends Tom Okawara, Dr. Terry Tokutaro Hayashi, Dr. Hideki Hayashi, Kay Tsukamoto, Harry Suze and George Kiyoshi Togasaki, he de­cided to organize a club with the intention of educating the greater American public about the status and prob­lems facing the Nisei. They adopted the name American Loyalty League for the club and, as a first step, set up a speaker’s bureau to inform the public and launched a voter registration drive to as­sert their American citizen­ship. However good their intentions, other factors such as earning a living de­tracted from the club, and after a very few meetings the club went into dormancy.

In 1922, Dr. Yatabe moved to Fresno to set up his dental practice, and soon after arriving here, he was summoned back to a meeting in San Francisco to help revive the San Francisco American Loyalty League and to organize a network of such clubs. Due to the youth and immaturity of the delegates to that meeting no final decision was reached. However, at a second meeting in early 1923 representatives from nine localities met in San Francisco and agreed that each would return to their respective communities and establish a chapter of the American Loyalty League. Among the several chapters that were organized, only the Fresno chapter has had a continuous and successful existence. The success of the Fresno chapter is attributed to the persistent and dy­namic leadership provided by Dr. Yatabe.