Dillon S. Myer

Not to be confused with Dylan Meier.
Dillon S. Myer

Dillon S. Myer with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the Gila River War Relocation Center on April 23, 1943.
Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
In office
May 1950  March 20, 1953
Preceded by John R. Nichols
Succeeded by Glenn L. Emmons
President of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs
In office
Director of the Federal Public Housing Authority
In office
Director of the War Relocation Authority
In office

Dillon Seymour Myer (born September 4, 1891 – October 21, 1982) was a United States government official who served as Director of the War Relocation Authority, Director of the Federal Public Housing Authority, and Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[1][2] He also served as President of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs. He is the subject of Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism by Richard T. Drinnon.[3]

Early life and education

Myer was born September 4, 1891, in Hebron, Ohio. He earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1914 and an M.A. in education from Columbia University in 1926.[1][2] From 1914 to 1916, he taught agronomy at the University of Kentucky.[2] He eventually transitioned into government work, taking a federal job with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in 1933. He continued his work with the Department of Agriculture, becoming assistant chief of the Soil Conservation Service in 1938.[4]

War Relocation Authority

Myer was appointed to lead the War Relocation Authority on June 17, 1942, and ran it until its dissolution in 1946. He replaced Milton Eisenhower, who had opposed the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans and resigned after 90 days.[5] Myer would eventually come to agree that the internment was a mistake, but believed that the resettlement efforts he headed toward the end of the war worked toward correcting it. One of his first actions as WRA Director, Myer established a formal leave program to allow citizen Nisei to exit camp for work outside the exclusion zone. (Kibei, citizens who had spent considerable time in Japan and were viewed by the WRA with suspicion, and non-citizen Issei were prohibited from leaving the camps.)[4] The leave clearance program helped alleviate overcrowding in some of the camps and, especially important for Myer, began the process of resettling an inmate population that would have to be released at the end of the war, although it was met with heavy opposition in some states where anti-Japanese prejudice remained high. One historian characterized Myer as a principled hero struggling to end the program in the face of a broad, fear-driven movement perpetuating it.[6] Myer himself told an ACLU conference in 1944 that "super-patriotic organizations and individuals" and Hearst newspapers on the West Coast were hindering the resettlement of tens of thousands of "harmless" detainees eligible to leave the camps.[7]

In July 1943, Myer was called to testify before a subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee.[4] Triggered in large part by news of the resettlement program, and fed by ongoing rumors that the WRA was "coddling" inmates while the larger public suffered from wartime shortages, the Dies Committee was charged with investigating potential fifth column activity in the camps. The Committee's final report was anti-climactic; Myer was able to disprove the more inflammatory claims, and the suggestions the Committee did offer were for the most part in line with existing WRA policies.[8]

One of these policies, and the main criticism of Myer's administration of the WRA, was the push for assimilation among Nisei resettlers. Early in 1943 Myer had established WRA field offices in Chicago and Salt Lake City, two cities that received a significant number of those released on work leave. The offices provided support to Japanese Americans, helping them find employment and housing in communities where discrimination was widespread, but WRA workers, following Myer's directive, also encouraged Nisei to "blend in" by avoiding speaking Japanese or spending time with other Japanese Americans. Leave policy was to disperse former inmates so that there would be no large congregations of Japanese American communities or reestablishment of the pre-war Japantowns. Myer continued work with an advisory council established by his predecessor and headed by Japanese American Citizens League leader Mike Masaoka (a controversial figure in himself), and the WRA and JACL together emphasized hyper-patriotism and assimilation with white Americans as the primary means for Japanese Americans to achieve success.[4][9] Additionally, while Myer was supportive of the "good" Nisei who were eligible for leave clearance, those who were seen as "troublemakers" — mostly protestors and those who failed the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" — were removed from the general population and sent to segregated maximum security camps.[4]

President Harry S. Truman awarded Myer the Medal for Merit for his work at the Authority, and in 1946 the Japanese American Citizens League honored him for his "courageous and inspired leadership."[1] In 1971, he published Uprooted Americans: the Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority during World War II.[10]

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Myer led the Bureau of Indian Affairs from May, 1950 until President Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted his resignation in March, 1953 as part of the changeover from the Truman Administration in 1953.[11] Early in Myer's tenure, Oliver La Farge, then President of the Association on American Indian Affairs, expressed optimism based on Myer's record that he and new Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman would offer tribes more assistance and less paternalism.[12] Instead, Myer accelerated the termination policy begun in the 1940s to withdraw the federal government from Indian affairs and liquidate Indian property, ultimately an "abject failure."[13] Myer's supported termination so avidly that a year into Myer's tenure at BIA, Harold Ickes (former Secretary of State and a key figure in implementing the New Deal), called Myer "a Hitler and Mussolini rolled into one."[14] :1030

Ultimately, Myer faced "vigorous" criticism from the AAIA,[11] for example in its opposition to his effort to broaden the powers of Bureau law-enforcement officers.[15] Despite comparing Bureau policy under Myer to the Japanese internment, "designed to reduce Indians to the condition of prisoners of the bureau," Felix S. Cohen nevertheless told the House Interior Committee that he believed Myer to be "a man of the highest integrity."[16]

Indian termination policy

From the time Myer joined the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he "felt very strongly that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should get out of business as quickly as possible but that the job must be done with honor."[17]:282 He was surprised to learn that the large majority of Indians did not support termination policies, but attributed this to lack of understanding by some well-meaning people coupled with deception by some lawyers who worked prominently with tribes (see "Tribal legal representation" below).[17]:282–283

Myer's administration of the Indian termination policy was consistent with his continued support for:

Upon leaving office, he wrote to his successor Glenn L. Emmons: "In order to implement these proposals and for the benefit of the Indians a strong hand will have to be taken both by the Department [of the Interior] and Congress."[17]:283

As early as 1950, reformer John Collier (who himself had led BIA for 12 years) accused Myer of taking a stance of "personal patronage" toward tribes through his control over Indian legal affairs.[18] Myer later credited Collier's disfavor to an inadvertent dispute in 1942 over the future of Japanese internees at the Poston War Relocation Center, located on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, when Collier was BIA commissioner and Myer headed the War Relocation Authority.[17]:255

Serious controversy arose when Myer drafted and the Department of the Interior promulgated proposed regulations that would allow Myer to veto contracts for legal representation between tribes and attorneys. The move to control tribal legal representation grew out of frustration by Democratic members of Congress with lawsuits brought on behalf of tribes by a few particular lawyers, especially Felix S. Cohen, architect of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act and author of the Handbook of Federal Indian Law. Myer viewed Cohen, counsel for the Association on American Indian Affairs; and James E. Curry, counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, as examples of lawyers who deliberately misled Indian tribes and the public, using Indian organizations as fronts to advance their own financial interests in tribal representation contracts and consulting fees.[17]:278–279

Opponents of Myer's regulation included the National Congress of American Indians, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Association on American Indian Affairs, a number of individual tribes,[19] and much of the legal profession, including the American Bar Association.[20] Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman finally laid the controversy to rest by abandoning Myer's regulation, leaving in place 1938 regulations dating to the tenure of John Collier.[20]

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 Dickie, William. "Dillon S. Myer, Who Headed War Relocation Agency, Dies", The New York Times, October 25, 1982, retrieved on April 6, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 "Dillon S. Myer Papers", Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, retrieved on April 6, 2014.
  3. Drinnon, Richard T. Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. ISBN 0-520-05793-7.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Imai, Shiho. "Dillon Myer" Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  5. Niiya, Brian. "Milton Eisenhower" Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  6. Hamby, Alonzo L. "Under Suspicion," review of Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. New York Times. November 4, 2001.
  7. New York Times. "Scores Opponents of War Relocation: Head of the Authority Says Organized Groups Hinder Aid to U.S. Japanese." Feb. 13, 1944.
  8. Niiya, Brian. "Dies Committee" Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  9. Drinnon, Richard T. Keepers of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987) pp 72-73.
  10. Myer, Dillon S. Uprooted Americans: the Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority during World War II. University of Arizona Press, 1971. ISBN 0816502587. Information at Google Books
  11. 1 2 New York Times. "Myer Out as Head of Indian Bureau." March 20, 1953.
  12. La Farge, Oliver. "Not an Indian, But a White-Man Problem: More guidance and less paternalism is urged to alleviate poverty and ignorance of redmen." New York Times. April 30, 1950.
  13. Anderson, Robert T., Bethany Berger, Philip P. Frickey, and Sarah Krakoff. American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary. St. Paul: Thomson Reuters, second edition (2010). Pp. 142-145.
  14. Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. University of Nebraska Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8032-8734-8. Preview at Google Books. (quoting The New Republic 124:17 (May 1951).
  15. New York Times. "2 Congress Bills on Indians Scored: Measures to Widen the Police Powers of U.S. Bureau Called Un-American." March 27, 1952.
  16. New York Times. "U.S. Laws on Indians Called Un-American." March 1, 1952.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Myer, Dillon S. An Autobiography of Dillon S. Myer. 1970. Manuscript available at Open Library (accessed April 12, 2014).
  18. New York Times. "Policy on Indians Scored: Ex-Official Says Bureau Head Views Affairs as Patronage." December 2, 1950.
  19. Leviero, Anthony. "Indian War Whoop Marks Hearings." Jan. 4, 1952. New York Times.
  20. 1 2 Leviero, Anthony. "Curb on Lawyers of Indians Lifted." New York Times. January 25, 1952.
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