A couple of weeks ago, an almost completely unknown man named Bob Fletcher died at the age of 101. Mr. Fletcher was a Sacremento farmer who lived a quiet life in California that would have gone un-noticed except for the period between 1942 and 1945.
In 1942, Fletcher was a California state agricultural inspector when America went to war with Japan. In Florin County, California, and throughout the United States, all persons of Japanese descent were ordered to barbed-wire internment camps where they would remain interred until 1945. Fletcher, seeing the farms of his Japanese neighbors abandoned and almost certainly doomed to failure, bankruptcy and seizure by the state, quit his job and took over the farms, paying all the taxes and bills and holding 1/2 the profits for the families in trust until the rightful owners returned. He worked 18 hour days and refused to stay in the families' homes, instead living in rudimentary huts built for migrant workers with his wife. The families told him to live in their homes and take all the profits, but he stubbornly refused, insisting that the land and the homes belonged to them.
Members of the Florin community were deeply anti-Japanese and vocally scorned and insulted Fletcher. One person even shot at the barn he worked in. When the Japanese families returned in 1945, they found their farms safe and fully operational, while many others throughout California and the United States had lost their farms and their homes during internment. Even after the war, Fletcher helped to purchase supplies for the farmers when local merchants refused to sell to them.
Just before his death, the people of his community celebrated his 100th birthday and praised his sacrifice for his fellow citizens. One of the descendants of the farmers whose land he saved wrote a book called "We the People" in which she recounts his story, and that of her own family. “I don’t know about courage,” he said in 2010 as Florin was preparing to honor him in a ceremony. “It took a devil of a lot of work.”