This week is the 81st anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the racially-targeted presidential order that unlawfully incarcerated Japanese Americans in prison camps and forcibly removed these farmers, merchants, and families who were part of the heart and soul of early Pike Place Market.
This order was the culmination of 50 years of racial exclusion and xenophobia that the Japanese community experienced as they tried to build their livelihoods in Seattle and at the Market. Japanese immigrants were among the very first to sell produce on Pike Place Market’s opening day in 1907, and continued to build the district into a thriving destination.
They experienced discriminatory practices in daily stall assignments, as stalls were designated by race and gave preferential spots to white farmers even through Japanese farmers outnumbered them two to one. Japanese farmers petitioned Seattle City Council four different times in the 1910s to change these practices, and were ignored. Despite racist policies continuing into the 1920s and 1930s, these farmers were the driving success of Pike Place Market, producing 75% of the fruits and vegetables sold.
In spring of 1942 after the executive order dropped, Market families were arrested, detained without explanation, and imprisoned until the end of the war. Farmers were forced off their land, out of our city, and never returned to sell at Pike Place.
The Japanese community had been instrumental in promoting food access, childcare, and other elements of the healthy community model that the Market Foundation stands by today. Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent incarceration broke this support system, leaving an irreplaceable gap in the Market.
As we mark the 81st anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the Market Foundation recognizes the irreversible harm and generational impact Japanese American incarceration had on the Market community. The complicity in removing them from the Market goes against the very principles of community that Japanese farmers and merchants instilled in this neighborhood.
Today, the Market Foundation’s model for a healthy community helps reduce barriers so that that everyone in our neighborhood can live their best lives possible. In the spirit of the Japanese farmers who shared their produce with the downtown community, our social service partners continue to help ensure that culturally appropriate food is accessible to everyone regardless of income. At the Market Foundation, we support Market farmers who experience systemic barriers through investments like the Seed and Bulb Program, and the Bulk Buy Program. For our work in nourishing the Market community, we were honored to receive the Community Service Award from Seattle’s Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in 2019. You can learn more about the Market’s history of food access, and how the Foundation’s programs continue this work today, by visiting our website.
We recognize that the 115-year history of Pike Place Market is built on a collective of legacies: multiple generations of farmers, merchants, and families from all different backgrounds who made this place “the soul of Seattle”. The Market Foundation is committed to sharing the stories of all those who established this Market community we serve today, and the richness of their diverse traditions. Together with our partners, we are working to preserve this heritage and build a more equitable future where every member of our community has the opportunity to live healthy, vibrant lives.
Next time you are just inside the Market entrance under the “Meet the Producer” sign, look up to see the five-panel artwork by Artist Aki Sogabe. Commissioned in 1998 by the Japanese-American Citizen League Seattle Chapter in remembrance of the Market farmers, the panels read:
In 1941, approximately two-thirds of the farmers’ stalls in the Pike Place Market were occupied by Japanese Americans. Today, none.
The United States Executive Order 9066 forever changed the Pike Place Market and the lives and families of 120,000 people of the United States of America.
To learn more and take part in recognizing Day of Remembrance:
- Read Seattle Times reporter Elise Takahama’s column about her great-grandfather getting arrested at his produce stand in Pike Place Market, and her family’s subsequent journey to understand the devastating effects of incarceration.
- Explore Pike Place Market stories on Densho, a nonprofit founded in Seattle in 1996 that records oral testimonies of those incarcerated during WWII.
- Read Displacement by our friend Kiku Hughes at HistoryLink. This graphic novel tells the story of a teenager pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in the internment camps.
- Visit “Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family,” the traveling exhibit from the Wing Luke Museum currently at Seattle Central Library.
- Attend Densho’s event on March 9 for an evening with Japanese American poets and writers. Five award-winning authors will share poetry, stories, memories, and letters.
Photo of two farmers at Market stall courtesy of Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project. “Stall at the Public Market” (ddr-densho-34-123) Densho, Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection.
Photo of farmers distributing free produce courtesy of the PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection (number 83.10.2125), Museum of History & Industry