I’ve discussed resettlement in New York City in a previous post about the newspapers the Japanese Times and Japanese American News. But while most Japanese American businesses and organizations were located in Manhattan, scores of resettlers from the western camps stayed temporarily in the Brooklyn Heights hostel.
A cooperative project of the pacifist Church of the Brethren and the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the hostel was under the management of Ralph Smeltzer, a Brethren leader who had opened a similar facility in Chicago in 1943. During World War Two, the migration of Americans into major urban areas created an incredible shortage of housing, particularly for people of color who already encountered ferocious discrimination when they sought homes and apartments. Church organizations like Smeltzer’s, in cooperation with the War Relocation Authority, opened hostels in order to make resettlement outside the concentration camps possible.
A onetime fraternity house, the proposed hostel encountered considerable opposition from neighbors and others in New York who viewed Japanese Americans as disloyal security threats and potential saboteurs. At the same time, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and local social service organizations worked with the hostel’s managers to ease the facility’s reception. Between May 1944, when the hostel opened, and the end of World War Two, hundreds of resettlers passed through the Brooklyn Heights facility.
Most of the white church leaders and social service staffers who worked with the hostel and the resettlers there pushed these Japanese Americans to “assimilate” into New York and not cluster with other Japanese Americans. For many resettlers, this was at best a difficult mandate and at worst an insulting one. First, numerous War Relocation Authority officials blamed Japanese Americans’ alleged failure to “assimilate” into prewar West Coast society for the internment. Of course, whites on the West Coast segregated Japanese Americans and discriminated against them, making any Japanese American attempts at integration extraordinarily difficult. Second, “assimilation” was quite difficult in New York, a city where the resettlers initially knew almost no one and were trying to fit into a racially segregated job and housing market. Still, more than a thousand Japanese Americans from the camps ended up making New York their home, at least until war’s end.
Some years after the conflict, 168 Clinton became ordinary apartment housing for renters and, eventually, co-op owners. It remains a co-op today.
Sources for this post include The New York Times.