Pomona native Lowell Pratt was honored for being the rare voice of support for the Japanese community when it needed it the most during World War II.
Pratt had operated a weekly newspaper in Selma, in Fresno County, where he wrote very unpopular editorials against the treatment and internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. At a time when the war in the Pacific was not going well for the U.S., Pratt criticized many people's anger against the local Japanese community, most of whom were native-born Americans.
"They are letting their prejudices blind them to the fact that unless we can maintain the principles of fair play and democracy at home, it will do little good to win victories for democracy abroad," he wrote in the Selma Enterprise, Jan. 21, 1943.
He railed against incendiary statements that were similar in hatred to those against the Islamic community after the
Sept. 11 attacks. Pratt cited the demands by some that even native-born Japanese-Americans be sent to Japan, or the opinion of a local district attorney that a returning soldier killing a Japanese in his county would not be considered murder.
" ... Because we are Americans and not Nazis and Fascists we ought to remember that in the United States the individual citizen, regardless of their
Pratt, who always wanted to be a newspaperman, learned early on to take the unpopular side if he felt it was right.
He attended Pomona High and Pomona College, then went to Columbia University School of Journalism in New York in 1915.
At Columbia, he joined a group of students that lobbied Congress to keep the U.S. out of war in Europe. Ironically, in 1917, he was drafted into the Army and served seven months in France.
After completing Columbia in 1920, he returned to Pomona where he worked for the daily Progress and later the Pasadena Star News. All along, though, he made it clear he wanted to own a weekly paper, just like William Allen White's Emporia Gazette in Kansas, a small paper then regularly read by presidents and the captains of business alike.
In November 1926, Pratt bought the Enterprise - which was mostly a small printing press in Selma with very little hope for profit - for $13,000, most of which he borrowed.
This was a time when even the smallest towns had their own newspaper - Selma in fact had two.
After struggling for two years, Pratt's Enterprise merged with its competitor - and then things really got bad. During the Great Depression, the combined paper survived on job printing and swapping advertising for groceries, milk and laundry service.
Pratt was named postmaster at Selma, a political reward for his Democratic views. It gave him a badly needed salary while his struggling Enterprise continued as the conscience of the small town.
In 1931, a fight between white and Hispanic youths resulted in only the latter being cited. Pratt charged "the judge could not resist the temptation to collect $70 from farm workers unacquainted with American courts."
The judge called him and cited him for contempt of court, but later backed down.
With the advent of war and the removal of the Japanese community from the coast, Pratt's regular criticism of the area's anti-Asian sentiment was very unpopular.
Pratt found "Jap Lover" painted on the sidewalk in front of his office. When Japanese-Americans were allowed to return late in the war, shots were fired into one of their houses in Selma, while a second was burned under suspicious circumstances.
Undeterred, Pratt continued to point out that Japanese-Americans were soldiers in Europe, and that those in internment camps had generally given up their homes willingly and at great sacrifice.
"We have our racial problems in this country but we can't solve them arbitrarily unless we want to adopt Hitler's methods," he wrote in 1942. "Unfortunately, there are some people in this country who would like to do just that."
For his editorials, Pratt was nominated in 1943 for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism by Dr. Hubert Phillips of then-Fresno State College.
After the war, Pratt, now in his 50s, started opting for a new challenge. In 1947, he sold the Enterprise - it's still operating - and became a professor and public relations director at San Jose State College.
After retirement in 1968, he and his wife moved to Wheaton, Md., to be with their daughter.
Pratt died in a Wheaton nursing home June 6, 1979. He and his wife are buried at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont.
Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history. He can be reached at 909-483-9382, email at email@example.com or Twitter @JoeBlackstock.