PARKVILLE, Mo. -- This week, lawmakers in California formally apologized for the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, most born in the United States, in the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While most consider it a regrettable chapter in American history, it was also a time when Park University (then Park College) made national news for a noble gesture toward college-aged Japanese-Americans in those detainment camps.
“This was a very controversial issue for the United States, particularly here in the Midwest,” said Dr. Tim Westcott, an associate professor of history at Park University.
As president of the Parkville college in 1942, Dr. William Lindsay Young made the bold decision to enroll 20 Japanese-American students who had been held at the infamous internment camps.
To many, it was not a popular decision.
“The city of Parkville was relatively hostile,” Westcott said.
The mayor of Parkville strongly objected, as did many neighbors and some alumni.
But the vast majority of students, and even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, sent letters supporting the college’s brave stance.
“Dr. Young looked at us, a small college but a beacon of light for democracy,” Westcott said.
Of the 20 students who enrolled, nine went on to graduate, most with honors.
“They were fully accepted into our clubs and our organizations as if they were any other American student, as they were," Westcott said. "It was our obligation, as Americans, to do what we were going to do.”
Now, 78 years later, an exhibit stands at Park University as a reminder that sometimes being a patriot isn't always popular with your neighbors -- but it's an American principle worth fighting for.