Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Davis City Council Anti-Japanese Resolution of 1943 (82)

Preface: Posts numbers 82 and 83, published back-to-back today, deal with aspects of the 1943 Davis City Council Anti-Japanese Resolution.

This post, number 82, consists of my account. I asked Rich Rifkin to comment on it prior to publication. He did and his observations are published in post number 83, which follows this post. Post 83 also includes my response to his observations.

This post is in two parts.

Part One tells the story of the Davis City Council’s “Anti-Japanese” Resolution of 1943.

Part Two reports conflicting characterizations of Ben Madon’s role in that matter.

1 & 2,

Part One. The City Council’s 1943 Anti-Japanese Resolution

Monday evening, June 7, 1943, Mayor Calvin Covell presented the Davis City Council a prepared, three-part resolution that:

-- expressed approval of government action “evacuating” “Japanese nationals and citizens” from the “Pacific Coast States”;

-- supported prohibiting “said evacuees” from “returning to the State of California during the continuation of hostilities”; and that

-- urged that their return “should be prevented” “after cessation of hostilities.” (#s 1, 2, 3.)

During Council discussion, member Ben Madson remarked that the resolution violated the Constitution because it included United States citizens in the ban (# l. DE 6-11). Other members agreed and no one seconded it.

But this is only the opening moment. According to the Friday, June 18th Enterprise, “considerable criticism and comment has been voiced over the failure to take a stand” (# 5).

Presumably heartened by this public support, Mayor Covell revised the resolution by removing reference to Japanese citizens, thus confining it to “nationals,” that is, non-citizens.

Judging by the June 25th Enterprise report (# 6), at the Council’s next meeting, on Monday, June 21, the fate of this revised “anti Japanese Resolution” was clearly the main event of the evening.  It was adopted unanimously. Ben Madson was absent, reportedly “out of the city on business” for the University (# 6).
The text of the exact resolution passed is shown in # 3. I think we can infer that the text is the same as the first version except for the deletion the two words “and citizens” following the words “Japanese Nationals” in  lines two, thirteen, and eighteen.

This is to say, the scope of application of the resolution was narrowed, but its animus and its endorsement of government “evacuation” were not weakened.

Part Two. Ben Madson: Pragmatic Realist Versus Inclusionist Champion

When I first brought this episode to light in Davis, Radical Changes (2004, p. 118), I treated Madson’s pointing out that one cannot ban citizens as a simply practical and realistic observation. Indeed, one can interpret what he is reported to have said as a suggestion for revision that would make a stronger measure. One gave up indefensible banning of citizens in exchange for more defensible banning of non-citizens. And one still got to endorse the government “evacuation” and to express hostility to Japanese people, which the resolution does.
I was therefore surprised to read Rich Rifkin’s construal of Madson’s remark as an Atticus Finch style championing of racial justice and inclusion (reproduced here in # 7). Among other features, Madson is said to have provided “leadership” in moving Davis “away from segregation and toward inclusion.”*

The significant difference between a practical realist and an inclusionist champion characterization of Madison made me wonder if Rich was reporting information about him from sources other than the six documents on the incident I reproduce here.

I therefore asked him what sources he used. He said he did not recall having used sources other than these six. But, he said he did not keep a record of his sources and he was therefore uncertain what he had used.   

In my view, Rich is ascribing a far stronger civil rights role to Madson than the data support. Madson may have played an inclusionist role, but the data we see here do not provide evidence of that.
Furthermore, we know quite a lot about Mr. Madson aside from this episode and  the data I have seen do not  support a characterization of him as a Davis-style Atticus Finch.
Instead, in 1939 the small number of men who had been running city government since its start in 1917 selected him to fill a vacancy on the Council. He was clearly chosen to carry forth that group’s view of the world, including the view embodied in the “Jap Ban” adopted on June 21, 1943.

Enterprise editor Maghetti unabashedly described this insider old boy process on the front page of the February 17, 1939 issue  (# 8), where he also assures us that:

He is known to be a safe, conservative man who can be relied upon to give thoughtful consideration to the problems that might come before him.

The Madson that Maghetti describes in this early 1939 sentence is, I think, exactly the same Madson who called attention to constitutionality the evening of June 7, 1943. Rather than striking a blow for inclusiveness, as Rich seems to wish, he helped the old boys build a more viable racist resolution--a resolution the Enterprise accurately (to them) called the “Jap Ban.”

In addition, after this appointment to a Council seat in 1939, he stood for Council election four times, won every election, finished first three times, and served a term as Mayor. He was pretty much the successor to the champion old boy himself, Calvin Covell, who, as we have seen, started and promoted the “Jap Ban” episode in the first place.

*Rich’s characterization was subsequently reproduced on the DavisWiki, thus giving it wider circulation and possible acceptance by unwary readers. See: