First Church recently received a commemorative plaque (pictured) from the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project (https://berkeleyplaques.org/e-plaque/japanese-internment/) recognizing the church’s role in providing space (Pilgrim Hall) for local Japanese Americans to assemble before being transported to concentration camps in April 1942. Anti-Asian racism, fear, and anger after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941 prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue an executive order that led to the unjust imprisonment of 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry. In Berkeley, some 1,300 Japanese Americans, including students, staff, and faculty at Cal and the Pacific School of Religion, were forced to leave their homes, jobs, and schools and taken into US Army custody.
Former church member Shirl Henderson, a 19-year-old Cal student at the time, was so moved by witnessing the Japanese Americans being loaded onto buses by armed soldiers on Dana Street that she later compiled a binder of photographs, letters to and from incarcerated students, and other material documenting what happened at Pilgrim Hall that week in April 1942. It was Shirl’s binder that provided the inspiration and much of the material for the plaque project and the 75th year commemoration that took place in Berkeley in 2017.
To view Shirl Henderson’s archive, visit:
To read more about the 75th year commemoration, visit: