California has had many dark moments, but one of its darkest in recent history is the internment of Japanese Americans during the early 1940s.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Empire of Japan, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which resulted in the internment of more then 100,000 Japanese Americans.
According to the National Archives, between 1861 and 1940 around 275,000 Japanese immigrated to Hawaii and the continental United States.
Although the order did not specify any ethnic group, General John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command used the order to begin curfews for only Japanese Americans.
On March 29, 1942 DeWitt began forced evacuations and detentions of Japanese American West Coast residents and over the following six months around 122,000 men, women, and children were forcibly moved to assembly areas, according to the archives.
In California assembly areas were located in:
- Angel Island, Tiburon
Following the assembly areas, Japanese Americans were then moved to one of the 10 internment camps located across the western United States. In California, Manzanar (in the Eastern Sierra), and Tule Lake (in Modoc and Siskiyou counties) served as the camps for the West Coast.
According to the National Archives, of the more than 120,000 interned, 70,000 were American citizens who had all of their personal liberties, homes and properties taken from them.
A questionnaire was given to internees titled “Application for Leave Clearance” that was designed to distinguish if an internee was loyal or disloyal to the United States, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Two questions in particular, 27 and 28, led many Japanese and Japanese Americans to be ruled as “disloyal.”
Question 27 asked: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” Question 28 asked: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?”
Those who answered “no-no,” did not fill out the questions, or added conditions like “if my family is freed” were seen as disloyal and placed in the maximum security camp.
Tule Lake was the only camp to become a maximum security segregation center in order to imprison Japanese Americans that were seen as potential enemies of America, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Tule Lake was also one of the largest camps, according to the bureau, with a peak population of 18,700 internees. The camp opened on May 26, 1942, and detained people of Japanese descent from Washington, Oregon and Northern California. It was also the last of the 10 camps to close on March 28, 1946.
One of the best preserved camps is Manzanar, which held 10,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1946, according to the National Parks Foundation.
In 1943, Ansel Adams, one of America’s most popular photographers, visited the camp where he captured 200 images, according to the Library of Congress.
Although Adams is known for his stunning landscape photography, the majority of these photos are portraits depicting the daily life of those interned, as well as agriculture style, sports and leisure.
“The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use,” wrote in a letter to the Library of Congress when providing them with the collection of photos.
According to the National Park Service on Dec. 6, 1942, 11 people were shot by military police as they protested the arrest of a fellow internee. James Ito and Jim Kanegawa were killed in the shooting.
Following the closure of the camps in 1946, first generation Japanese (Issei) had to start their lives all over again while second generation Japanese (Nisei) began families and started careers in a post-war world that was not kind to them, according to the bureau.
During the Civil Rights movements in the 1960s, third generation Japanese Americans (Sansei) learned of their parents and grandparents internment during WWII and fought for reparations.
In 1988, the Civil Liberates Act provided the Japanese American community with an apology from the federal government, a $20,000 payment and a promise to fund education about the internment camps.