On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page


Table of Contents





Brief History

Gila River


Heart Mountain







Tule Lake

Isolation Centers

Add'l Facilities

Assembly Centers

DoJ and US Army Facilities



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Confinement and Ethnicity:
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An Overview of World War II
Japanese American Relocation Sites

by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord

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Chapter 3
A Brief History of Japanese American
Relocation During World War II

On December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. At that time, nearly 113,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, were living in California, Washington, and Oregon. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 empowering the U.S. Army to designate areas from which "any or all persons may be excluded." No person of Japanese ancestry living in the United States was ever convicted of any serious act of espionage or sabotage during the war. Yet these innocent people were removed from their homes and placed in relocation centers, many for the duration of the war (Davis 1982:27). In contrast, between 1942 and 1944, 18 Caucasians were tried for spying for Japan; at least ten were convicted in court (Uyeda 1995:66).

To understand why the United States government decided to remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast in the largest single forced relocation in U.S. history, one must consider many factors. Prejudice, wartime hysteria, and politics all contributed to this decision (CWRIC 1982; Hirabayashi and Hirabayashi 1984).

West Coast Anti-Asian Prejudice

strawberry harvest near San Jose
Figure 3.1. Japanese American family harvesting their strawberry field near San Jose, April 5, 1942.
(Dorothea Lange photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
Anti-Asian prejudices, especially in California, began as anti-Chinese feelings. The cultural and economic forces that led to the anti-Japanese feelings are discussed in detail by Daniels (1989:2-25), and summarized here. Chinese immigration to the U.S. began about the same time as the California gold rush of 1849. During the initial phases of the economic boom that accompanied the gold rush, Chinese labor was needed and welcomed. However, soon white workingmen began to consider the Chinese, who in 1870 comprised about 10 percent of California's population, as competitors. This economic competition increased after the completion of the trans-continental Union-Central Pacific Railroad in 1869, which had employed around 10,000 Chinese laborers. Chinese labor was cheap labor, and this economic grievance became an ideology of Asian inferiority similar to existing American racial prejudices. Discrimination became legislated at both the state and federal level, including a Chinese immigration exclusion bill passed in 1882 by the U.S. Congress.

The experiences of Chinese immigrants foreshadowed those of Japanese immigrants, who began arriving about the same time the Chinese exclusion bill was passed. Japanese immigrants were called Issei, from the combination of the Japanese words for "one" and "generation;" their children, the American-born second generation, are Nisei, and the third generation are Sansei. Nisei and Sansei who were educated in Japan are called Kibei. The Issei mostly came from the Japanese countryside, and they generally arrived, either in Hawaii or the mainland West Coast, with very little money. Approximately half became farmers, while others went to the coastal urban centers and worked in small commercial establishments, usually for themselves or for other Issei (Figures 3.1 and 3.2).

Japanese store, Penryn, CA
Figure 3.2. Japanese store, Penryn, California.
(Francis Stewart photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
Anti-Japanese movements began shortly after Japanese immigration began, arising from existing anti-Asian prejudices. However, the anti-Japanese movement became widespread around 1905, due both to increasing immigration and the Japanese victory over Russia, the first defeat of a western nation by an Asian nation in modern times. Both the Issei and Japan began to be perceived as threats. Discrimination included the formation of anti-Japanese organizations, such as the Asiatic Exclusion League, attempts at school segregation (which eventually affected Nisei under the doctrine of "separate but equal"), and a growing number of violent attacks upon individuals and businesses.

The Japanese government subsequently protested this treatment of its citizens. To maintain the Japanese-American friendship President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to negotiate a compromise, convincing the San Francisco school board to revoke the segregationist order, restraining the California Legislature from passing more anti-Japanese legislation and working out what was known as the "Gentlemen's Agreement" with the Japanese government. In this, the Japanese government agreed to limit emigration to the continental United States to laborers who had already been to the United States before and to the parents, wives, and children of laborers already there.

In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law which prohibited the ownership of agricultural land by "aliens ineligible to citizenship." In 1920, a stronger Alien Land Act prohibited leasing and sharecropping as well. Both laws were based on the presumption that Asians were aliens ineligible for citizenship, which in turn stemmed from a narrow interpretation of the naturalization statute. The statute had been rewritten after the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution to permit naturalization of "white persons" and "aliens of African descent." This exclusionism, clearly the intent of Congress, was legitimized by the Supreme Court in 1921, when Takao Ozawa was denied citizenship. However, the Nisei were citizens by birth, and therefore parents would often transfer title to their children. The Immigration Act of 1924 prohibited all further Japanese immigration, with the side effect of making a very distinct generation gap between the Issei and Nisei.

Many of the anti-Japanese fears arose from economic factors combined with envy, since many of the Issei farmers had become very successful at raising fruits and vegetables in soil that most people had considered infertile. Other fears were military in nature; the Russo-Japanese War proved that the Japanese were a force to be reckoned with, and stimulated fears of Asian conquest — "the Yellow Peril." These factors, plus the perception of "otherness" and "Asian inscrutability" that typified American racial stereotypes, greatly influenced the events following Pearl Harbor.

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Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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