"Forward Into the Past, a feature story from the September 13, 2001 issue of Westword, told the tale of teacher John Hopper's historical journey. This trek resulted in Hopper being honored with the History Colorado Presidents Award last night at the Colorado Historical Society's annual ceremony for "outstanding people and projects that preserve, protect and honor Colorado's diverse history and heritage."
Here's how the our feature begins:
John Hopper got a job teaching history at Granada High on the day before school started in 1990. His predecessor had quit unexpectedly, leaving behind her students, her classroom and a single piece of yellow paper taped to the desk outlining her courses: world history, government, geography, U.S. history and civics. Hopper, then 27, had a history degree from Colorado State University, a master's degree in secondary education from Adams State College -- and almost no teaching experience.
Hopper's future on that 1990 day lay in the town of Granada's past, specifically the Granada Relocation Center. In 1942, the U.S. government opened the camp in this tiny eastern Colorado town to house thousands of Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes in California. It was one of ten "relocation centers" built during the WW II.
Since then, Hopper and his classes have dug up the remains of the camp, which had been covered by decades of brush and dirt. They conducted archaeological research, contacted former residents, collected documents, negotiated with local politicians, faced old and new prejudices, worked with Japanese-American groups in Denver, and written reports. The Amache Preservation Society, which he created, also has a small museum.
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In 1994, the Granada center, also known as Camp Amache, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, it became a National Historic Landmark.
"You look across the United States, and this history has been hidden, in a sense," Hopper recently told Westword. "It's only in the last decade that we've really focused back on it. Even when the Japanese got their reparations, it wasn't that big a deal. Now it's a different story. All ten camps are trying to do something. I kind of fell into it at the right time. If this had been 25 years ago, I don't think much would have come of it. There wasn't that political sense of righteousness. I guess I won the lottery when I got hired."
And Colorado won the lottery when Hopper got involved.