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The Speech

In early 1944, the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play requested that Kuroki address the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Kuroki would address a packed noontime crowd on February 4, 1944 in what would come to be considered an historic speech in changing attitudes towards Japanese Americans on the west coast. Two weeks earlier, Vice President Harry S. Truman spoke.

[ Read the Commonwealth Club Speech ]

In Ruth Kingman’s oral history, she was the one who suggested Kuroki speak. She was not in attendance, it’s assumed because as a woman she was not allowed into the room, but reported the speech was well received:

My husband said that as far as he could see there wasn't a person in the Garden Court Room of the Palace Hotel, which was jammed, who didn't stand up. That many of them were weeping. My husband came home and told me and later the captain too, told me that the person they noticed most of all was Henry Kaiser, of the Kaiser shipyards, who was standing in front with tears running down his face and applauding madly.

Well, this to us was the beginning of the change of the whole attitude in California. Kuroki got marvelous publicity. The press, even the McClatchy press, even the Hearst press, gave him good coverage. This was a man in uniform reporting on what he had done and this is the way we brought him in. This was the way we wanted him reported. And this is the way he was reported. And publicity on both radio and in the press all the way up and down the coast was good.

There is a lot more about the committee and Ben Kuroki’s speech on the Online Archive of California -- search for Ruth Kingman at http://oac.cdlib.org/.

Committee on American Principles & Fair Play

There had been concern for the rights of Japanese Americans as Japan and the U.S. seemed destined for war in the fall of 1941. At that time the Northern California Committee for Fair Play for Citizens and Aliens of Japanese Ancestry was formed, which included progressive, prominent community leaders such as Robert Gordon Sproul and Monroe Deutsch of the University of California, Berkeley, Ray Lyman Wilbur of Stanford University, and Galen Fisher, who had been a missionary to Japan. By the time Kuroki arrived in Santa Monica, California in late 1943 the group would be called the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play.

The committee pushed to preserve the rights of Japanese Americans. There were few other vocal supporters on the West Coast and the committee came under fire from the local press and politicians in the California State Assembly.

Correspondence from Monroe Deutsch

Following the historic speech at the Commonwealth Club, Kuroki became friends with Deutsch, Wilbur, and Rowell. He would correspond with Deutsch, and enlisted his support in his effort to fly on B-29s over Japan. In a letter dated March 3, 1945, Deutsch acknowledges Kuroki’s speech as marking the turning point in the attitudes toward Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

A note from Dorothea Lange

Famed depression photo-documentarian Dorothea Lange was also in attendance during Kuroki’s Commonwealth Club speech, the only women allowed in the room. She had photographed the West Coast evacuation for the War Relocation Authority. Her husband, Paul Taylor was a member of the Pacific Coast Committee for American Principles and Fair Play. Lange wrote a prescient letter to Kuroki’s sister in Hershey, Nebraska to report on the event.

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Most Honorable Son premieres

Sept. 17, 2007
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Learn about ...

• The Nisei
• The Speech
• The Internment