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 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.”

Ford’s 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, almost half of whom were chil­dren, 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.

[amazon_carousel widget_type=”ASINList” width=”600″ height=”200″ title=”Recommended Reading” market_place=”US” shuffle_products=”False” show_border=”False” asin=”1890771309,0700619267,1410927121,0809078961,0939165538,0295974842,1470168162,0295992700,1890771910,1893343057″ /]

Compulsory Japanese 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 mandatory relo­ca­tion. (Infor­ma­tion on the ulti­mate desti­na­tion and length of stay in a relo­cation cen­ter was not made avail­able.) Approx­i­mately 120,000 Japa­nese and Japa­nese Amer­i­cans (62 per­cent of whom were U.S. citi­zens) from the U.S. West Coast were affected by Roose­velt’s 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 primi­tive, hastily con­structed camps called “War Relo­ca­tion Centers” in remote parts of the nation’s interior.

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 interned in War Relo­ca­tion Autho­rity (WRA) centers for the duration of the war (1942–1945). Internees were put to work building, among other things, dams, canals, roads, school class­rooms, base­ball fields, basket­ball courts, and parks. At the Granada Reloca­tion Center (Camp Amache) in South­eastern Colorado (peak population 7,318 persons in February 1943), internees in the silk­screen shop produced propa­ganda posters for the U.S. Navy. About 6,000 babies were born in the internment camps.

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 bused later to perma­nent reloca­tion centers like Manzanar. Evacuees were forced to leave homes, businesses, possessions, and pets behind, taking only what they could carry.

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. Today, Manzanar is desig­nated a National Histo­rical Site (part of the U.S. National Park Service) and is visited by fewer than 85,000 people a year (2015).

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. There were ten Japanese intern­ment camps in Canada. Over 75 per­cent of the 20,881 Japanese and Japanese Canadians who were uprooted and interned in Canada in 1942 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. Those who resisted their removal were shipped further east to POW camps in Ontario, Central Canada.

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. Cost to the U.S. Treasury: $1.6 billion.

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