"What's Maj. Hopkins' place in history?The park district may rename an historic park, citing wartime racism."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:38 PM
"The place, Camp Hopkins, recalls fond memories of harmony and community spirit among generations of island Boy and Girl Scouts.But the name is emblematic of hatred and divisiveness. Major M.J. Hopkins of Rolling Bay, a pioneer area scout leader, was also a ringleader in the short-lived movement to prevent Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II from returning to the Bainbridge Island.I don't have any problems with the man, but I do with what he stood for, said Gerald Nakata, who was an island Boy Scout prior to his family's internment during the war.He didn't want us back.Now the Bainbridge Island Park District is considering changing the name of the 2.8-acre parcel on the northeast corner of Park Avenue and Dingley Road.Although owned by the park district, the camp is maintained and used by island scout organizations.The issue arose after Review article last summer that traced the origin of the camp's name. Park district cultural supervisor Sue Hylen questioned whether a name that a segment of the community found offensive was appropriate for a public facility.The district agreed that we should bring this to the attention of the community, Hylen said this week. So we are going through the process of considering a name change.That process begins with appointing a seven-member committee, which will conduct a public meeting and gather suggestions. It will then present a list of possible names to the park district board of directors, which will make the final decision.The board could decide not to do anything, Hylen said, but judging from the reaction when I first brought it up, I think they believe the name should be changed.Already appointed to the naming committee are Dave Lown representing the Boy Scouts; Suzy Cook representing the Girl Scouts; and Joan Piper from the island historical society. Nakata and Shigata Shigs Moritani, who was in the same Boy Scout troop as Nakata, represent the Japanese-American community. Two more members are being sought. Uniter or divider?Hopkins' name graces the park because of his scouting connection. He founded the Olympic Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which bought the park from Kitsap County in the 1930s. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration - a New Deal public-works and job-creating agency - built a log lodge on the property. A plaque still on the chimney lists the boys who were members of island scout troop No. 497. Almost half the names are of Japanese origin.But any spirit of brotherhood the scouting experience produced apparently did not rub off on Major Hopkins, or was changed by the war with Japan. Despite the recognized valor of Japanese-American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War II, and despite the absence of disloyalty among West Coast citizens of Japanese ancestry, there was nevertheless an element on Bainbridge Island that did not want the community's Japanese-Americans to return after their wartime internment.In November 1944, some 200 islanders gathered at Bainbridge Island's Grange Hall to organize efforts to prevent the return of the Japanese-American community. The group's anger was directed not only at the interned islanders, but at the Review and its editor, Walt Woodward.Major Hopkins was one of the speakers. The Review's coverage of the meeting in the Nov. 10, 1944, edition says:Maj. M.J. Hopkins, Rolling Bay, said the problem of the return of the Japanese was 'unpleasant' to him for he had several nisei in his Boy Scout troop. He said, however, that he did not want them again as neighbors. Of the Review, Major Hopkins said:'Woodward is sincere but doesn't know a darn thing about the problem. I admire his courage but not his common sense or his lack of information.'That same issue prints a lengthy letter to the editor from Hopkins, in which he claimed that a large majority of the island opposed the return of the internees.The group was headed by a Lambert Schuyler of Manitou Beach, but Hopkins apparently became the press spokesman. Hopkins is quoted in the Nov. 24, 1994 Review as announcing a second meeting.This time, though, only 34 people showed up, according to the Review's coverage. And again, the opposition's focus was as much on Woodward and the Review as on the internees.The third scheduled meeting was cancelled, and nothing further was heard from the group. By printing their views in detail, Woodward evidently marginalized them. Numerous letters to the editor appeared in support of the Japanese-Americans.When the internees did come home to Bainbridge, any anti-return sentiment was not noticeable.I didn't notice any prejudice, mainly because of the editor of the Review, Gerald Nakata said.Dave Lown of the Boy Scouts agrees that a name change may be appropriate.This was a dark chapter in our history, he said. The name of a park for all our kids ought not to offend.So far, the park district has not found any opposition to changing the name. Director Dave Lewis said he has searched the deeds, and none say anything about the Hopkins name.But if there is any sentiment from anyone that the name ought to be kept, we want to hear from them, Lewis said.Although the city has condemned the lodge on the property as unusable and unsalvageable, the park still gets use from the scouts and the park district. Temporary buildings are used for classrooms and meetings.Efforts to replicate the log structure are in their preliminary stages, Lewis said.It will take a grass-roots community effort, he said. We need a lumber company or log-house builder or someone like that with access to the proper materials, he said.Anyone interested in serving on the Camp Hopkins committee should contact Hylen at the park district office, 842-2306, before March 3. "