San Leandro, California · May 30, 1942

On this date in California in 1942, California-born Japanese Amer­i­can Fred Kore­mat­su was arrested for refusing to com­ply with Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt’s Exec­u­tive Order 9066, which autho­rized the Sec­re­tary of War and his mili­tary com­man­ders to require all Japa­nese Amer­i­cans be removed from desig­nated “mili­tary areas” and placed in intern­ment camps in the U.S. interior. When orders were issued on May 3, 1942, for Japa­nese Amer­i­cans to report on May 9 to assem­bly centers as a pre­lude to their being sent to intern­ment camps, Kore­mat­su, a trained ship­yard welder, became a fugitive. He under­went plastic surgery on his eye­lids in the hope of passing as a Cau­ca­sian, changed his name to Clyde Sarah, and claimed to be of Hawai­ian-Span­ish heritage. He was arrested in San Leandro near Oak­land, Califor­nia, after being recog­nized as a “Jap.” Kore­matsu’s con­vic­tion for dis­obeying a mili­tary order issued under the autho­rity of Execu­tive Order 9066 led to a test of the order’s legal­ity before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kore­matsu v. United States. On Decem­ber 18, 1944, in a 6–3 deci­sion, the High Court ruled that “com­pul­sory exclu­sion,” meaning intern­ment, though consti­tu­tionally sus­pect, was justi­fied during cir­cum­stances of “emer­gency and peril.” Yet after the war the order remained on the books. Decades later Kore­mat­su’s con­vic­tion was over­turned after new evi­dence revealed that chal­lenged the need for the in­tern­ment. On Febru­ary 19, 1976, Presi­dent Gerald Ford re­scinded Exe­cu­tive Order 9066. “We now know what we should have known then,” he said, “that evacu­ation [was] wrong.” His suc­ces­sor Jimmy Carter signed legis­lation in 1980 to create a Con­gres­sional com­mis­sion to con­duct an in-depth study of Exec­u­tive Order 9066, related war­time orders, and their impact on Japa­nese Amer­i­cans and native Alas­kans. In Decem­ber 1982 the com­mis­sion issued its findings in Per­sonal Justice Denied, con­cluding that the incar­ce­ra­tion of Japa­nese Amer­i­cans had not been justi­fied by mili­tary neces­sity and recom­mended an official govern­ment apo­logy and redress pay­ments of $20,000 to each of the sur­vi­vors. Con­gress passed and Pre­si­dent Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liber­ties Act of 1988 to ensure that the injus­tice in­flicted on Japa­nese Amer­i­cans during World War II would never happen to any group again.

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Japanese American Relocation and Internment

War Department poster, 1942Pledge of Allegiance, San Francisco, April 1942

Left: Sign posted in San Francisco notifying peo­ple of Jap­a­nese ancestry to report for relo­ca­tion. Approx­i­mately 120,000 Japa­nese and Japa­nese Amer­i­cans (62 per­cent of whom were U.S. citi­zens) from the U.S. west coast were affected by Exec­u­tive Order 9066. While roughly 10,000 were able to relo­cate to other parts of the coun­try of their own choosing, the remain­der—some 110,000 men, women, and chil­dren—were crammed into hastily con­structed camps called “War Relo­ca­tion Centers” in remote parts of the nation’s interior. About 6,000 babies were born in the internment camps.

Right: San Francisco, California, first-graders, some of Japa­nese ances­try, pledge alle­giance to the U.S. flag, April 1942. The evac­u­ees of Jap­a­nese ances­try would soon be housed in War Relo­ca­tion Autho­rity (WRA) centers for the dura­tion of the war.

WRA assembly center, San Bruno, California, April 29, 1942Lange’s photo of Manzanar, July 3, 1942

Left: This assembly center in San Bruno, California, just south of San Fran­cisco, had only been open for two days when Dorothea Lang, on assign­ment with the WRA, snapped this photo­graph on April 29, 1942. Bus­load after bus­load of evacu­ated persons of Japa­nese ancestry were arriving that day, going through the necessary procedures for registration. Afterwards the families were guided to the newly built barracks in the back­ground, to be bussed later to perma­nent reloca­tion centers like Manzanar.

Right: Manzanar, located at the foot of the Sierra Neva­das in Cali­for­nia’s Owens Val­ley, was the first of ten per­ma­nent intern­ment camps where over 110,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans were incar­ce­rated. Lange visited Man­za­nar in July 1942 and recorded the in­tern­ees’ plight and depri­va­tion in a remark­able collec­tion of photo­graphs. This one is of a mess hall and a row of barracks looking west to the desert beyond, with the Sierra Neva­das in the back­ground. On this day, July 3, a hot wind­storm blan­keted the camp with dust from the surrounding desert. At its peak Man­za­nar held 10,046 in­ter­nees. In all, 11,070 peo­ple were “relo­cated” to Man­za­nar, 90 per­cent drawn from the Los Angeles area.

Japanese internment camp, British Columbia, June 1945President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

Left: Unnamed internment camp for Japa­nese Cana­dians in Brit­ish Colum­bia, June 1945. Over 75 per­cent of those in­terned in Cana­da were Cana­dian citi­zens. The camps were euphe­mis­tically called “Self-Sup­porting Cen­ters.” Some intern­ment camps in Brit­ish Colum­bia were in a moun­tainous area so physi­cally iso­lated that fences and guards were not required because the only way in or out was by rail or water.

Right: In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed legis­la­tion that apolo­gized on behalf of the U.S. govern­ment for war­time Japa­nese Amer­i­can intern­ment. The legis­la­tion stated that govern­ment actions at the time were based, not on “mili­tary neces­sity,” but on “race pre­ju­dice, war hys­teria, and a fail­ure of poli­ti­cal leader­ship.” Starting in 1990 the U.S. govern­ment paid repa­ra­tions to sur­viving internees.

Wartime American Propaganda Film Justifying the Intern­ment of Japa­nese Americans and Japanese Aliens