How Japanese Americans Fought for—and Won—Redress for WWII Incarceration
In 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government, citing “military necessity,” imprisoned some 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. Most were U.S. citizens and half were children. The overwhelming majority of these individuals would spend the next two to five years wrongfully stripped of their rights and freedoms and incarcerated without due legal process. They lost their homes, their livelihoods and their communities.
It was a gross violation of Constitutional rights that eventually prompted the community to demand redress and reparations.
When the camps closed, Japanese Americans were given $25 and a one-way train ticket to go and re-establish their lives. Faced with pressing short-term challenges—finding jobs and housing, feeding their families and getting their kids back in school—few were focused on an apology or reparations. Plus, many who’d been incarcerated suffered a shameful sense that, as a community, they had done something wrong to bring this Constitutional violation upon themselves. Many Japanese Americans endeavored to prove themselves 110 percent American so that this would never happen again.
As years passed, however, more concluded that the government needed to right the wrong put in motion by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to “relocate” people of Japanese descent during the war. Slowly, momentum built to demand redress.
The process took decades. For Japanese Americans, post-WWII America was still a place of racist legislation and sentiments where barriers arose constantly—from housing and employment discrimination to difficulties getting bank loans to lingering social hostility. Developing a collective political voice took time.
READ MORE: The Thorny History of Reparations in the United States
Small Social and Political Steps Toward Justice
The 1950s began a time of great change in America. While the Black civil rights movement gained steam with school desegregation and bus boycotts, Japanese Americans made their own strides. In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act loosened some longstanding immigration restrictions, allowing Japanese in America to become naturalized American citizens. And in 1959, the territory of Hawai`i gained statehood—and federal representation. Its first representative, Daniel K. Inouye was a WWII veteran of the decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese American battalion, who had lost his right arm in battle. With such a clear reminder of the valor and loyalty of Japanese Americans now in the Capitol, the possibility now existed that someday the wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans could be addressed.
The 1960s continued to foment social and political change in the U.S. The civil rights and women’s movements…
Read Full Story At: History.