A Colorado governor whose courageous support of civil rights during World War II is now honored with a tall, rose-colored monument on Kenosha Pass.
Some 264 miles of U.S. 285 was officially renamed the Ralph Carr Memorial Highway on Sunday in honor of the former governor, who opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
For Bob Fuchigami, 80, of Kittredge, the dedication meant standing up to thank Carr, the man who stood up for Fuchigami and others like him. Fuchigami and his family were at the Granada War Relocation Center in southeast Colorado, also known as Camp Amache, from 1942 to 1945.
"We didn't receive the direct benefit (of Carr in office) but heard about Ralph Carr, and he set the pace for acceptance," Fuchigami said.
Former state representative Rob Witwer of Genesee, who sponsored the legislation to rename the highway, said the memorial was 70 years in the making. He felt it was important to acknowledge Carr's stance against the internment of Japanese-Americans without due process. Carr's beliefs most likely cost him his political career, and, according to Witwer, he yielded to a principle higher than his own ambition.
"So many people don't realize that this state is special," Witwer said. "It was a place that Japanese-Americans were welcome during World War II. It wasn't popular, but it was the right thing to do."
Witwer calls the monument that overlooks South Park a roadside history lesson. He said people will stop and read the monument and, as they drive away, he hopes they'll discuss what Carr did.
Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said that when the department began to receive donations to erect the monument, tucked into the envelopes were stories and pictures of families and individuals who were interned at the camps.
Tom Lorz, with policy and government relations at CDOT, said a story about the monument ran in a California newspaper, and shortly afterward donations began to arrive. The letters and pictures spoke volumes about the ordeals of the people sent to the camps, he said.
"With the modest checks came heartfelt stories," Lorz said.
The memorial, which cost $16,000, was created by Alpine Monuments of Denver. There are also two large signs, one at U.S. 285 and C-470 and the other at U.S. 285 and the Colorado-New Mexico border, proclaiming to drivers that they are on the Ralph Carr Memorial Highway. Both signs also were funded by donations, according to Stegman.
The designation was approved by the Colorado General Assembly by unanimous vote in 2008, and Russell George, CDOT executive director, said the memorial brought people together, including politicians.
"People these days will quarrel about anything, but anything to do with this idea made the quarreling stop," George said.
He said people should remember and acknowledge Carr's singular stance against bigotry.
"He stood by so very many, but he was alone," George said. "It's not a happy story in America's history. It moved so fast back then, and Japanese-Americans became unwanted Americans."
Donations for the project were managed by the Asian Pacific Bar Association.
Denver County Judge Kerry Hada, a member of the Asian Pacific Bar, had an even more personal connection to the project. He remembers stories told by his uncle, whose family loaded up three carloads of possessions and headed to Colorado via Arizona and New Mexico.
He said the hysteria during World War II made the trip dangerous and frightening, and they were repeatedly harassed along the way. Rocks were hurled in their direction, and people threw trash at them, but when they reached Colorado, they were greeted by Carr.
"My uncle was astonished at that," Hada said. "My family owes Carr a debt of gratitude."
Ralph Carr’s history
Carr was born on Dec. 11, 1887, in Rosita in Custer County. He ran as a Republican and was elected governor from 1939 to 1943. In 1942, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were ordered from their homes, sent to relocation camps, and stripped of their possessions, homes and businesses. They were sent to landlocked states under the War Relocation Authority, and Carr reached out to those who were resettled into Colorado. He stood against the bigotry toward Japanese-Americans and fought to help them keep their American citizenship. He died on Sept. 22, 1950.
According to Witwer, Carr opposed the imprisonment of people without due process. Carr believed the relocation of Japanese-Americans was not in keeping with the Constitution, and his principles cost him his political career.
Reporter Adam Schrager's book “The Principled Politician” documents the story of Carr's career as a champion of civil rights. The book covers Carr's personal life and his political ambitions, as well as painting a portrait of America in one of its most turbulent eras. Witwer believes the lessons taught by Carr's actions are as important as today as ever.
"Ralph Carr should be discussed in classrooms around America, and (Schrager) reminded us of that," Witwer said. "It's not a bubble-gum novel. It's a well-researched historical account of Carr's life."
"He represents, for me, the best of America," Fuchigami said.