Respect Diversity + Inclusion

A college administrator used white out on a mural of Japanese American internment

the skyline of downtown bellevue, washington, over the river

Story at a glance

  • A mural installed at Bellevue College depicts two Japanese American children in a World War II internment camp.
  • An administrator of the college used white out to alter a reference in the mural to a local businessman.
  • The college issued an apology to students and staff after an outcry.

Bellevue College is apologizing to students and staff after one of its vice presidents whited out part of a mural of two Japanese American children in a World War II internment camp.

Bellevue College told the Seattle Times, who first reported the story, that it was Gayle Colston Barge, vice president of institutional advancement, who removed a line referencing anti-Japanese agitation by members of the local community from a placard describing the mural. 

“After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans included the 60 families (300 individuals) who farmed Bellevue,” read the line.

After the line was whited out, a laminated description without that sentence was taped over the original. 

“I feel the feelings associated with both sides of my family being forcibly removed from Seattle – erased, unimportant, disregarded, disrespected, shamed,” artist Erin Shigaki wrote in a text to the Seattle Times. 

Other Japanese Americans joined Shigaki in condemning the action, including actor George Takei. 

The mural was an installation of Shigaki’s “Never Again is Now,” an 11-foot-tall image of two children photographed at a California incarceration camp. The art was also installed on the side of a building at a busy intersection in Seattle, just across the bridge from Bellevue. 

It was installed at the college in recognition of the Day of Remembrance, which marks the date President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing Japanese internment camps in 1942. About 120,000 Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and incarcerated in the following years. 

In 1945, three years after Executive Order 9066, Miller’s son, Kemper Freeman, Sr., bought a 10-acre tract of land that is now home to Bellevue Square, the crown jewel of Kemper Development Company, run by Miller’s grandson, Kemper Freeman, Jr.