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Seattle's 60-year bond with Hiroshima

Nearly 60 years after the fact, Japan is commemorating a group of Seattle volunteers who traveled to Hiroshima to build houses in the wake of the atomic bomb. This time with a new museum.

Yosh Nakagawa and Brooks Andrews, interim senior pastor at Japanese Baptist Church, with records of a 1949 trip Andrews' father made to Hiroshima.

Yosh Nakagawa and Brooks Andrews, interim senior pastor at Japanese Baptist Church, with records of a 1949 trip Andrews' father made to Hiroshima. Joe Copeland

Daisy Tibbs-Dawson has been thinking a lot recently about a chapter of her rich life that she, a famous Seattle peace activist, and the citizens of Hiroshima wrote 63 years ago. A 25-year-old volunteer on a 1949 project to help rebuild housing in the atomic-bombed city, Tibbs-Dawson recalls hard work in primitive conditions where people were friendly to her and other Americans, even treating them as kind of celebrities.

This Friday, a number of Seattle-area residents are returning to Hiroshima to celebrate the opening of commemorative museum connected with the project. "I just wish I could go," said Tibbs-Dawson, now in her late 80s.

A former executive in Seattle Public Schools' Head Start program and a longtime leader in Presbyterian church affairs in the Northwest, Tibbs-Dawson, 88, is staying at home because of health issues that would make travel risky. Though she's traveled widely since, she has never returned to Hiroshima. "It would be such a difference," she says of the city, now a prosperous metropolitan area of more than 1 million people.

Officials in Hiroshima, Japan are set to open a museum in early November commemorating the reconstruction efforts of Seattle community members in the wake of the city's atomic bombing.

The city will open Schmoe House in November to commemorate the work of foreign nationals in helping Hiroshima residents recover. The new museum, which will be affiliated with the famed Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, will be housed in one of the last remaining Hiroshima houses built by the Seattle-led volunteer group.

Schmoe House will be named after longtime peace activist and Quaker Floyd Schmoe of Seattle, who was 105 when he died in 2005. Schmoe first traveled to Hiroshima in 1949 to build houses for bombing survivors as part of a four-person delegation that included the now-deceased Rev. Emery Andrews, a longtime pastor of Seattle's Japanese Baptist Church, and Tibbs-Dawson, who still lives in Seattle. The fourth delegation member, Ruth Jenkins, may live in California, according to information recently received by Yosh Nakagawa, a longtime leader in the Japanese Baptist Church as well as in sports and business.

Nakagawa and Andrews’ son, Pastor Brooks Andrews, (who is the interim senior minister at the church on Broadway just south of Seattle University) are traveling to Hiroshima for the opening of Schmoe House. Nakagawa said several members of Schmoe’s family and a number of Japanese Americans are also expected to attend the opening.

Between 1949 and 1953, groups working with Schmoe built 21 houses in Hiroshima. Houses were also built in Nagasaki, the other city that suffered a nuclear attack. Brooks Andrews said his father returned to Japan in 1951 or 1952 to help with the Nagasaki effort.

In a book published later, Schmoe wryly referred to himself and Emery Andrews as "definitely of the ‘parent generation' " to other volunteers on the project, mostly in their 20s. He also noted that Andrews was “known to most of the Nisei [second-generation Japanese Americans] in the Northwest simply as Andy. He probably married more Nisei couples than any other man in the United States." According to Nakagawa, Schmoe and Andrews became friends during World War II, when both were supporting Japanese Americans, who had been interned in camps in gross violation of various guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

At the start of the work, it seems that Hiroshima residents were somewhat amazed by the help. “Dad said people were very curious as to why this group would build houses, since they were former enemies,” Andrews recalled. “They couldn’t understand this. But for Dad and Floyd Schmoe, it was a gesture of peace.”

While the group was crossing the Pacific to express solidarity with the victims of the bombing, the composition of the four-person delegation was also breaking barriers at home. Tibbs-Dawson was a young African American — with a position teaching in a junior college — when Schmoe persuaded her to go. This at a time when segregation was still a social norm in most of European American-dominated society at home.


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