John’s Believe It Or Not… February 25th

* 1942 – Beginning of the Japanese Canadian Internment. * 1862 Legal Tender Act passed * 1870 African American congressman sworn in * 2004 The Passion of the Christ opens in the United States * 1873 Enrico Caruso is born

Young Japanese Canadians being relocated in British Columbia, 1942. (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

It’s Sunday! Did You Know…

* 1942 – Beginning of the Japanese Canadian Internment.

Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed the vast majority of people of Japanese descent living in British Columbia. They were interned for the rest of the Second World War, during which time their homes and businesses were sold by the government in order to pay for their detention.

Japanese people had long suffered the sting of racism in Canada by that point. Ever since the first Japanese person, a man named Manzo Nagano, stepped ashore in 1877 at New Westminster, White settlers in British Columbia tried to exclude people whom they considered to be “undesirables.” In so doing, they passed laws to keep Japanese people from working in the mines, to prevent them from voting and to prohibit them from working on any project funded by the province.

Then came the stunning news, on 7 December 1941, of Japan’s attacks on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong, where Canadian troops were stationed (see Battle of Hong Kong). With these shocking events, fears of a Japanese invasion were sparked and their flames fanned by a sensationalist press. Distrust of Japanese Canadians spread along the Pacific Coast. The RCMP moved quickly to arrest suspected Japanese operatives, while the Royal Canadian Navy began to impound 1,200 Japanese-owned fishing boats. On the recommendation of the RCMP and in order to avoid racist backlash, Japanese newspapers and schools were voluntarily shut down.

“From the army point of view, I cannot see that Japanese Canadians constitute the slightest menace to national security,” wrote Major-General Kenneth Stuart. Nevertheless, BC politicians were in a rage, speaking of the Japanese “in the way that the Nazis would have spoken about Jewish Germans. When they spoke I felt… the physical presence of evil,” said Escott Reid, a Canadian diplomat.

On 24 February 1942, the federal Cabinet of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King issued Order-in-Council P.C. 1486 to remove and detain “any and all persons” from any “protective area” in the country. While those powers were broad enough to detain any person, they were specifically used to target Japanese Canadians along the West Coast. The following week, the British Columbia Security Commission, the organization that carried out Japanese internment, was established. On 16 March, the first Japanese Canadians were transported from areas 160 km inland from the Pacific coast — deemed a “protected area” — and brought to Hastings Park. More than 8,000 detainees moved through Hastings Park, where women and children were housed in the Livestock Building. All property that could not be carried was taken into government custody.

“I was a 22-year-old Japanese Canadian,” said Tom Tamagi, “a prisoner of my own country of birth. We were confined inside the high wire fence of Hastings Park just like caged animals.”

Special trains then carried the Japanese detainees to Slocan, New Denver, Kaslo, Greenwood, and Sandon — ghost towns in the BC interior. Others were offered the option of working on sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba (see Sugar Industry), where they would be able to keep their families intact. Though the camps were not surrounded with barbed wire fences, as they were in the United States, conditions were overcrowded and poor, with no electricity or running water.

Those who resisted their internment were sent to prisoner of war camps in Petawawa, Ontario, or to Camp 101 on the northern shore of Lake Superior. 

In a further betrayal, an order-in-council signed 19 January 1943 liquidated all Japanese property that had been under the government’s “protective custody.” Homes, farms, businesses and personal property were sold, and the proceeds used to pay down the social assistance received by detained Japanese Canadians.

 

Anti-Japanese racism was not confined to British Columbia but was spread across Canada. Though acutely in need of labor, Albertans did not want Japanese Canadians in their midst. Alberta sugar beet farmers crowded Japanese laborers into tiny shacks, uninsulated granaries, and chicken coops, and paid them a pittance for their hard labor.

The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families.
The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families. (Michael Kluckner)

* 1862 Legal Tender Act passed

On this day in 1862, the U.S. Congress passes the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the use of paper notes to pay the government’s bills. This ended the long-standing policy of using only gold or silver in transactions, and it allowed the government to finance the enormously costly Civil War long after its gold and silver reserves were depleted.

Soon after the war began, the federal government began to run low on specie. Several proposals involving the use of bonds were suggested. Finally, Congress began printing money, which the Confederate government had been doing since the beginning of the war. The Legal Tender Act allowed the government to print $150 million in paper money that was not backed by a similar amount of gold and silver. Many bankers and financial experts predicted doom for the economy, as they believed there would be little confidence in the scheme. There were also misgivings in Congress, as many legislators worried about a complete collapse of the nation’s financial infrastructure.

The paper notes, called greenbacks, worked much better than expected. The government was able to pay its bills and, by increasing the money in circulation, the wheels of Northern commerce were greased. The greenbacks were legal tender, which meant that creditors had to accept them at face value. In 1862, Congress also passed an income tax and steep excise taxes, both of which cooled the inflationary pressures created by the greenbacks.

Another legal tender act passed in 1863, and by war’s end, nearly a half-billion dollars in greenbacks had been issued. The Legal Tender Act laid the foundation for the creation of a permanent currency in the decades after the Civil War.

An American $2 bill!
An American $2 bill! Never had those, eh! (commons.wikimedia.org)

* 1870 African American congressman sworn in

Hiram Rhoades Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, is sworn into the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American ever to sit in Congress.

During the Civil War, Revels, a college-educated minister, helped form African American army regiments for the Union cause, started a school for freedmen, and served as a chaplain for the Union army. Posted to Mississippi, Revels remained in the former Confederate state after the war and entered into Reconstruction-era Southern politics.

In 1867, the first Reconstruction Act was passed by a Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, dividing the South into five military districts and granting suffrage to all male citizens, regardless of race. A politically mobilized African American community joined with white allies in the Southern states to elect the Republican party to power, which in turn brought about radical changes across the South. By 1870, all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and most were controlled by the Republican Party, thanks in large part to the support of African American voters.

On January 20, 1870, Hiram R. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature to fill the Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. On February 25, two days after Mississippi was granted representation in Congress for the first time since it seceded in 1861, Revels was sworn in.

Although African Americans Republicans never obtained political office in proportion to their overwhelming electoral majority, Revels and some 15 other African American men served in Congress during Reconstruction, more than 600 served in state legislatures, and hundreds of African Americans held local offices.

Portrait: Hiram Revels was sworn in as the first Black- American U.S. Senator in 1870.
Hiram Revels was sworn in as the first Black- American U.S. Senator in 1870. (abcnews.go.com)

* 2004 The Passion of the Christ opens in the United States

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s film about the last 44 hours of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, opens in theaters across the United States on this day in 2004. Not coincidentally, the day was Ash Wednesday, the start of the Catholic season of Lent.

The star of action-packed blockbusters like the Lethal Weapon series and Braveheart, Gibson was earning more than $20 million per movie at the time he decided to direct The Passion of the Christ, for which he received no cash compensation. Largely based on the 18th-century diaries of Saint Anne Catherine Emmerich, the film was a true labor of love for Gibson, who later told Time magazine that he had “a deep need to tell this story…The Gospels tell you what basically happened; I want to know what really went down.” He scouted locations in Italy himself and had the script translated from English into Aramaic (thought to be Jesus’ first language) and Latin by a Jesuit scholar. Gibson’s original intention was to show The Passion of the Christ without subtitles, in an attempt to “transcend the language barriers with visual storytelling,” as he later explained. With dialogue entirely in Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic, the film was eventually released with subtitles.

A year before The Passion of the Christ was released, controversy flared over whether it was anti-Semitic. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) went on record saying that Gibson’s film “could fuel hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism.” Specifically, its opponents claimed the movie would contribute to the idea that Jews should be blamed for the death of Jesus, which has been at the root of much anti-Jewish violence over the course of history. For his part, Gibson categorically denied the allegations of anti-Semitism, but they continued to haunt him years after the film’s release. (In July 2006, he was arrested for driving under the influence; a leaked police report of the incident stated that Gibson made anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting officer. Gibson later acknowledged the report’s accuracy and publicly apologized for the remarks.) Meanwhile, Christian critics of the film’s story pointed to its departure from the New Testament and its reliance on works other than the Bible, such as Emmerich’s diaries.

Gibson, who put millions of his own money into the project, initially had trouble finding a distributor for the film. Eventually, Newmarket Films signed on to release it in the United States. Upon its debut in February 2004, The Passion of the Christ surprised many by becoming a huge hit at the box office. It also continued to fuel the fires of controversy, earning harsh criticism for its extreme violence and gore–much of the film focuses on the brutal beating of Jesus prior to his crucifixion–which many saw as overkill. The film critic Roger Ebert called The Passion of the Christ “the most violent film I have ever seen.” Gibson’s response to similar charges was that such a reaction was intentional. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, he claimed: “I wanted it to be shocking. And I wanted it to be extreme…. So that they see the enormity, the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule.”

Demonstrators hold signs protesting Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ outside a movie theater.
Demonstrators hold signs protesting Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ outside a movie theater. (Getty Images)

* 1873 Enrico Caruso is born

There was a time in America, early in the last century, when the top-selling record of all time was of the operatic tenor Enrico Caruso performing “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. That 78 r.p.m. record was the first million-seller in American history, and at a price that exceeded the cost of some tickets to a live Caruso performance. It has happened occasionally in more recent times that stars from the world of opera have crossed over to attain a degree of mainstream popularity—Plácido Domingo, José Carrera, and Luciano Pavarotti, performing as “the Three Tenors,” are the most successful that come to mind. Yet it might take 300 tenors of their stature to equal the cultural impact of Enrico Caruso. The most famous operatic tenor in history and the biggest recording artist of the early 20th century, Enrico Caruso was born in Naples, Italy this day in 1873.

Enrico Caruso came of age during a true golden age for Italian opera, as composers like Pietro Mascagni, Giacomo Puccini, and Ruggero Leoncavallo were writing a significant portion of the next century’s basic repertoire: Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, and the aforementioned Pagliacci. The conductor for his La Scala debut as Rodolfo in La bohème was the great Arturo Toscanini, a man with whom he would perform hundreds more times over the next 20 years, but thousands of miles away, in New York City.

Caruso had performed in opera houses from St. Petersburg to Buenos Aires before making his first visit to the United States in 1903. He would return the following year and make New York’s Metropolitan Opera his home base for the remainder of his professional career. That same year, he made his first recording for the Victor Talking-Machine Company (later RCA Victor). Over the next decade-and-a-half, Caruso recorded scores of arias of three- and four minutes in length—the longest duration that could fit on a 78 r.p.m. record. Those recordings are widely credited not only with establishing Victor’s “His Master’s Voice” label as the most recognizable in the world but also with spurring the growth of the record industry as a whole.

After a long illness, Enrico Caruso died on August 2, 1921, in his native Naples, not far from where he was born on this day 48 years earlier.

Enrico Caruso, the greatest tenor who ever lived
Enrico Caruso, the greatest tenor who ever lived. (HISTORY Canada)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                           http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                               

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 25th”

  1. I read about the internment of the Canadian-Japanese with great interest, John. The English did the same thing to the German people living in their country during WWII. My Mother’s grandmother had one of the German wives living with her as and English person of good standing had to keep an eye on her while her husband was interned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Canada interned Italian Canadians who had immigrated from Italy. They arrested my grandfather, Eugenio Fioravanti, from his home in Toronto and took him down to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds along with other Italian men they had rounded up. They let him go home when they found out that his son Richard (my father) was serving in the Canadian Army. Others were interned in camps for the duration of the war – but the women and children were left alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A wide range of subjects today. There is no doubt the internment and theft of property of the Japanese was an injustice. The times were definitely different and should serve as a reminder of what true prejudice left unchecked can produce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! I was raised in the immediate aftermath of WWII and I recall the racist feelings prevalent in the community where I grew up. The fact that racism is alive and well today makes me profoundly sad. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was – it shows the impact of Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. I wish there was a detailed statistical breakdown for that Senate election – I’d love to know what the voter turnout was – especially among Blacks. Thanks, Opher.

      Like

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