Yuki Kitaoka
A Different View

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

After receiving word from Takashi, Yuki travels on a southbound train. When the Mason-Dixon Line is crossed: Caucasians go to the front of the train, African Americans go to the back. Yuki is told to go to the front.

Not far from an African American section of Hattiesburg, the Kitaokas rent space in an antebellum mansion.

In August, Yuki follows the 100th Battalion to New York where the men are to embark for Europe. The ship leaves before she sees Takashi.

Traveling South

When [Takashi] told me to come, I got on the train and halfway down to Mississippi, I was told to get out of the train. I wondered what was happening. I’m at the Mason-Dixon Line. Of course, you read about it in history, that’s about all. But what am I doing out here, waiting for them to tell me to come in? Well, I was told it was the Mason-Dixon Line and that is a place where everybody goes out of the train.

[Until we got to the Mason-Dixon Line, blacks and whites were] all mixed. [They sat anywhere they wanted.]

[Once we got to the Mason-Dixon Line,] all the blacks go in the back of the train, all the whites go [in the front]. They don’t know what to do with me, whether to classify me as a black or a white. So they had to discuss it, I guess. And after a few hours of waiting, they came to me and said, “White.” So I got to the white section.

That was an experience because I don’t know the segregation was that bad. But everything else went off nicely.

At that time, I don’t think I was scared or anything. I figured, if I am a black, okay, I go black side.

I don’t [remember] anybody questioning me. I only wondered why I was told to step aside. I didn’t know why until they told me. I don’t think I even thought of Mason-Dixon Line when I got on the train. But that’s the only experience I have with black people, at that time. Hawaii had no blacks, no nothing, especially blacks. We had a few Jewish people and I was always told that Jewish people are not haoles. (Chuckles) Isn’t that funny? You know, the Jewish people are Jewish people.

Race Relations

But the segregation was down South, still. You go to a theater, black and white. You go to a public drinking fountain, black fountain, white, next to each other.

Video Icon
I got on the bus — I could remember in Hattiesburg — I got on the bus, and the back is just jammed full of blacks and the white side is practically empty. And I was sitting right by the division line where blacks and there’s a [black] lady standing by me, and she’s just standing there. There’s an empty seat right next to me. And I said, “Why don’t you sit down?” She said, “No, Ma’am, cannot sit down. Only whites.” So I said to myself, “Oh-oh, I said the wrong thing.”

But that’s the only time I realized that it was really bad. Segregation was really bad.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

We stayed in a house that was owned by an old white family [in Hattiesburg], the kind that you see in Gone With the Wind, you know, big mansion. But they had partitioned the house in such a way that they can rent out the one section. So they rented it to us. And my husband would come and stay with me and go back to the barracks.

Yuki and Takashi Kitaoka

The owner, the husband, was a traveling salesman. And as far as the wife was concerned, he’s a no-good salesman. (Laughs) They had a daughter, very nice young girl. They lived in the front of the house and we rented the other half, see.

Mrs. Jordan was very, very nice. Made me think of the Southern aristocrat. But evidently, they hit bad times and they were renting houses. And that Mr. Jordan was a traveling salesman, I never saw him around. Once in a while he comes home.

Living conditions were very nice. Cold during the winter, no snow. But it always made me feel very funny to go to town, they had a little central location. We wanted to go to a movie, we always have that sign, “Black Only.” That must have been very strict.

"Colored admission" to movie house

[The blacks sat in a] separate section. They usually went upstairs. Balcony side. But it’s only when we went to town that we see that segregation is very, very strict. So that was in the 1940s, still bad.

I don’t remember eating grits and things like that too much. We did our own cooking. But, I must say, I still remember the cockroaches. Big ones running around.

And the Jordans had a little dog. I used to wonder what they did during winter when you want to make the dog doo-doo or something. They don’t have any training, he’d doo-doo all over the hallway (chuckles). We had to get through the hallway to get through to our kitchen — and you have to be very careful that you don’t step on anything. They had no way of training dogs, I guess. Otherwise, we were young, we could take anything, I guess.

Toshiko Fukuda

At the beginning, we stayed with the Hattoris. And they moved out and just at that time, Toshiko [Fukuda] wrote to me and said she’s coming over with a few wives. I think the other group — they had about five or six wives, just wives alone — came and she said she’d like to stay with me until they found a place to stay.

[The wives] really split because most of them were officers’ wives. No rookies like us, [my husband] was not an officer [at the time]. But they were all wives and they all split their own way and I hardly saw them. Toshiko and I were sort of away from them. They must have lived away.

So, she came and she stayed with me all the time, from March till — the boys left in August, I think. And she and I, we traveled [around the] South quite a bit, trying to follow the husbands’ maneuvers. They used to go on maneuvers. So when we hear that they’re here, oh, we’d go and drive and meet them there and things like that.

The last time we went to Shreveport [Louisiana] from Hattiesburg to meet them we couldn’t see them because they changed the site of the maneuvers. And that’s so close to New Orleans. I should have gone but we didn’t go. I never did go to New Orleans. Shreveport was the closest.

But that one experience was the first time I ever saw a firefly. First time. I thought it was so pretty. While we were traveling — we’d take the bus and we’d go, you see — we’d see these fireflies, oh, they’re so pretty. And, of course, the boys would complain that the South was full of chiggers, the kind of insects that get into you. [Takashi would] come home from bayou and everyone with a wristwatch, the chiggers would get under the wristwatch. Ooh, just like fleas, sticking around. That’s a bad experience I had. You can’t sit on the lawn, green grass, the chiggers will get at you. That’s one thing we don’t have [in Hawaii], I’m glad.

[We traveled on buses.] Always buses. We never had any disagreement with people there. They’re all very, very nice. The Negroes, we called them “Negroes.” Now, if I ever mention Negro, even my granddaughter, “Grandma, you don’t call them ‘Negroes.’ ” But with us, at that time, “Negro” was a common word. Nothing derogatory or anything. Just like you were Japanese, you were a Negro.

But anyway, the black section was just a stone’s throw from our big mansion. And to get to the black section, the blacks would have to walk through. But we never had any trouble. I never knew what the black section looked like but I know it was in the back of our area. And all the merchandise and things that we bought from the mama-and-papa store over there, all the whites talk [with a Southern dialect] like blacks. But they never gave us any problem.

So I stayed in Hattiesburg, what, eight months in August. They [the men] went to New York to embark there and [Toshiko Fukuda and I] followed them. Crazy fools, we followed them and we went to the shipyard where they were docked. And I remember making plans to meet them, but they left [for Europe] before we could see them. So we didn’t see them at all.

So she headed for Milwaukee and I headed for Chicago.

Yuki Kitaoka's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Takashi and Yuki Kitaoka, and Office of War Information (Library of Congress).

All rights to the reproduction or use of content in the Hawaii Nisei web site are retained by the individual holding institutions or individuals.

Please view the Hawaii Nisei Rights Management page for more information.