Ralph Lawrence Carr, Man of Principle

August 27, 2007 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Colorado Governor Ralph CarrColorado Governor Ralph Lawrence Carr was an unusual man. Not many politicians would sacrifice their political career for a wildly unpopular cause. But yet he did just that.

Carr, who governed Colorado from 1939 to 1943, was a Republican who supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s foreign policies. But when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) decided to relocate Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to the Amache Japanese Internment Camp near Granada, Colorado, Carr opposed internment, saying that it was inhumane and violated the civil rights of Japanese-Americans and, as such, internment was unconstitutional. Faced with an angry mob upset over the arrival of the first Japanese-American detainees, he said: “If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it, because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.” He took the unheard-of step of urging his constituents to welcome the evacuees.


Watch the video to see some disturbing examples of what Carr was up against. Amache opened in August 1942, closing in October 1945. At one time, its held 7,318 prisoners. One prisoner, Lily Havey, wrote in Only My Freedom: “Jack rabbits hopped about freely, unfazed by barbed wire and armed guards. We were trapped.”


Governor Carr Gives a 1943 Radio AddressIn a riveting radio address, Carr said: “America is made up of men and women from the four corners of the earth, of every racial origin and nationality. It is truly the melting pot of the world. There is no place here for the man who thinks that his people or those who speak his language are in turn entitled to preference over any others. When we reach the United States, we have been transformed into new people, and we have left behind us everything but our memories and our relatives. We have become new men and women with new interests and new devotions and new loyalties.


“I am not in sympathy with those who demand that all evacuees be placed in concentration camps, regardless of their American citizenship or of the legality of their presence here. Our Constitution guarantees to every man, before he is deprived of his freedom, that there be charges and proof of misconduct in a fair hearing.”

In the end of course, Carr was right. But his calls for racial tolerance and for protection of the basic rights of Japanese-Americans are widely believed to have cost him his political career, including loss of the 1942 Senate election, when he ran against incumbent Democratic Senator Edwin C. Johnson and narrowly lost. But some things are more important than elections, and Carr realized that, unlike many candidates. His moral caliber was simply not compatible with contemporary mores.

Colorado State CapitolIn a prescient letter, “Address of the Honorable Ralph L. Carr, Governor of Colorado Delivered Before the Joint Session of the Colorado Legislature Thirty-fourth Session at Denver January 8, 1943,” the outgoing governor warned of the potential threat to all U.S. citizens — not just Japanese-Americans — of losing their freedoms if the mentality of war hysteria and restrictions on civil liberties continued: “The Allied armies are battling today, carrying all the force of civilization against a plan which would control the lives of all other people and determine their courses. A plan which would move into any state and say to its farmers, to its industrialists, to its housewives and to its business men that they must change their chosen ways of life. . . Have we come to the point in this country where it is necessary, in order for us to live, that we must modify and control the attitudes and thoughts and actions of every human being in America according to a chart developed by some group which would make us conform to a national scheme?”

Governor Carr's GraveCarr (1887-1950) is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver. In 1976, a bust of Carr was placed in Denver’s Sakura Square to honor his efforts to help Japanese-Americans. It took awhile but, in 1996, the Colorado General Assembly honored Carr with a resolution in appreciation of his “efforts to protect Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.” Governor Carr was named Colorado’s “Person of the Century” by the Denver Post, which cited Carr’s decency and humanity.

Read more civil rights news.

Photo credits: Colorado Historical Society and Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau

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