Today marks Remembrance Day for approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry who were forcibly displaced and incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, unfortunately, anti-Japanese sentiment and jingoism, in the guise of military necessity, prevailed. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of American citizens from the West Coast. Under the order of General John Lewitt, people of Japanese ancestry – most of them American citizens – were made to hurriedly pack a few belongings and sent to isolated and hastily constructed camps around the country, where most remained until the end of the war.
Japanese American families were rarely able to recover their homes and thriving businesses after the war and had to start over. Many were middle-aged and had spent decades contributing to United States communities.
This document, Alien List, shows a list of Alaska Japanese Americans and where they were living before being forced to leave their homes and businesses. See Sold, Damaged, Stolen, Gone: Japanese American Property Loss During WWII.
These registration cards show the Tanakas had resided in the United States for over 46 years and nearly 21 years, respectively.
All images were donated by the families. They are housed in the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, and are also in Alaska’s Digital Archives. The collection is Japanese-American Incarceration, Juneau Families, bulk 1940s. ASL-MS 286. The collection includes autobiographies.
Kumasaka Family. ASL-M286-9-3
A number of Japanese Americans outwardly resisted when asked to complete a loyalty questionnaire. The government began sending resisters to the Tule Lake camp, where conditions worsened for the detainees. Eventually, 5,000 Japanese Americans held at Tule Lake renounced their U.S. citizenship in protest. For more details about the complexities of the resistance, please explore DENSHO, a grassroots site with a mission to “preserve and share history of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans to promote equity and justice today.” See Japanese American response to incarceration on Densho. The site has extensive educational information in a multi-media format.
In the 1944 case Korematsu v. U.S. the Supreme Court addressed the legality of the forced deportation and incarceration of Japanese American citizens. In a 6-3 decision, the Court found Order 9066 legal. In one of the three dissents, Justice Frank Murphy decried the majority opinion as a “legalization of racism.” Justice Owen Roberts noted in his dissent this was a “case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry.” Note: it is also important to remember on this day that when the United States Army called for volunteers from those held in the camps, thousands of Japanese American citizens volunteered, and served with distinction in the war.
As the tide of the war turned in favor the United States, Americans of Japanese ancestry were allowed to return leave the camps and return home. In many cases their houses or businesses were Sold, Damaged, Stolen, or Gone. After the war ended, many newspaper editorials spoke of public regret over the unjustified treatment of Japanese Americans. An editorial from the Washington Post in 1946 called the whole incident a “smudge upon our national honor and a threat to elementary principles of freedom.” In an article praising the Medal of Honor recipient, Sadao S. Munemori, the Christian Science Monitor remarked that “No honor paid to his name can settle the debt the United States owes to the thousands of his countrymen who suffered serious economic losses when they were evacuated from their west coast homes in an improvised, overexcited action.” In 1988 Congress passed legislation that apologized for the incarcerations and provided for $20,000 payments to people who had been incarcerated.
Be sure to see our own Juneau families’ stories displayed on six panels in the APK atrium at the Alaska State Libraries, Archives, and Museum in Juneau! The display will be up through Tuesday, February 23! Or, you can view the families’s collection on Alaska’s Digital Archives at: Japanese-American Incarceration, Juneau Families, bulk 1940s. ASL-MS 286. In addition, at the display, pick up a free copy of Quiet Defiance, by Karleen Grummett, courtesy of the Empty Chair Project via the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. The book weaves together family narratives with archival research, The film, The Empty Chair, filmed by Greg Chaney, features Alice Tanaka’s interviews with other Juneau Japanese American family members and is available at the public library or for sale at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, as is the book. The Empty Chair project began as a memorial in Capital City Park in downtown Juneau.
Written by Anastasia Tarmann and Christopher Russell
Grummett, Karleen. Quiet Defiance: Alaska’s Empty Chair Story. 2016, Juneau, Alaska
Japanese-American Internment During World War II. National Archives
Teraoka, Emily. National Park Getaway: Minidoka National Historic Site. National Park Service.
See also #JapaneseInternmentCamps #DayOfRemembrance #Minidoka #Manzanar #InternmentCamps