Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Entrance gate to the Bainbridge Island-photo by Joe Mabel, Flickr
Photograph by Joe Mabel, Flickr

Entrance gate to the Bainbridge Island, Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Quick Facts

 The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, a unit of Minidoka National Historic Site, commemorates the first instance in the United States where people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes during World War II,and sent to relocation centers in remote areas of the country. This memorial serves to honor those who were removed and the neighbors who stood by them. It also serves as a reminding hope that this dark moment in our nation’s history not be repeated – Nidoto Nai Yoni (Let It Not Happen Again).

Bainbridge Island, located in eastern Washington's Puget Sound near the city of Seattle, was first inhabited by the Suquamish Tribe who lived and hunted on the island. The area was "discovered" by Europeans when Captain George Vancouver anchored off the island in 1792. Its rich old-growth forests and deep-water harbors eventually attracted entrepreneurs who developed a thriving lumber industry during the mid-19th century. Japanese immigrants first began arriving on the island in the 1880's to work in the lumber mills, forming the village of Yama near the Port Blakely Mill.

Strawberry farming was introduced to the island in 1908 by the Moritani family. In fact, most of the early berry farms were operated by Japanese immigrants, who leased their farm land as a way to circumvent prohibitive alien land laws. In time, Nissei (second generation, American-born citizens) were able to buy and own land either for themselves or on behalf of their families. By 1940, the island's largest industry was strawberry farming, which produced two million pounds of fruit a year.

Bainbridge Island was dotted with small communities made up of fishermen, farmers, businessmen, and wealthy families from Seattle who had their summer homes on the island. The various European and Asian immigrant groups on the island had become more integrated, and the Bainbridge High School, the only secondary school on the island, taught all of the island's children between 7th and 12th grades.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A day later, the United States declared war on Japan. Within the weeks and months following the bombing, , the government began arresting people of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast of the United States.

During the 1930s, the FBI and the Department of Justice began compiling lists of names focusing primarily on people involved with Nazi, Communist, and Fascist organizations in the U.S. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), concerned both about the rise of Japan as a military power and the safety of U.S. naval bases on the West also began to compile lists of individuals and organizations they considered a threat. The majority of people on the ONI list were Japanese Americans living near U.S. naval facilities. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, authorities began ordering the arrest of all persons named on these lists.

On February 4, 1942, the FBI, along with Washington State Police, and the Kitsap County sheriff's office, entered and searched every Japanese home on Bainbridge Island. Thirty-four men and one woman were arrested and questioned. Most were let go; however, 13 men were incarcerated in Department of Justice camps, and were not released until the end of the war.

In the weeks following the attack, General John L. DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command, had become concerned that people of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast were conspiring against the U.S. He recommended that they be removed from western coastal areas. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, issuing Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, which authorized the establishment of military areas encompassing most of the West Coast of the U.S. "from which any or all persons [of Japanese ancestry] may be excluded."

On March 24, 1942, General DeWitt issued Proclamation No.1 designating the western portions of Washington, Oregon, and California, and the southern half of Arizona as Military Area No. 1. Under Executive Order 9066, he ordered the removal of people of Japanese ancestry from those areas. Because of Bainbridge Island's close proximity to U.S. naval facilities on Puget Sound, General DeWitt also ordered the immediate removal of all Japanese Americans living on the island. The island's residents were the first people of Japanese ancestry to be forcibly removed from their homes and were given six days to sell or lease their farms and businesses, pack their personal belongings, and make arrangements to house their pets and store any other items of value.

On March 30, 1942, 227 men, women, and children, two-thirds of them American citizens, were taken by Army transport to the Eagledale ferry dock on Bainbridge Island. Many of the island's non-Japanese residents came to say good-bye to their neighbors and watch as they boarded a ferry for Seattle. Once on the mainland, the Bainbridge Islanders boarded a train for the Owens Valley Reception Center, an assembly center in California eventually renamed Manzanar Relocation Center. A year later, most of the Bainbridge Islanders requested transfers from Manzanar to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho to join other incarcerees from Seattle and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

While the Island's Japanese residents were incarcerated in the relocation centers, the local island newspaper, The Bainbridge Review, which was owned and edited by island residents Milly and Walt Woodward, wrote articles questioning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and in support of the island's Japanese community. The paper also published reports from its Japanese American field reporters, Bainbridge Island high school students incarcerated in Manzanar and Minidoka. The Woodwards worked to support their Japanese American friends and neighbors, and to ensure that they would have a smooth transition back into their island community at the end of the war.

After the war, over 65 percent of the Japanese residents of Bainbridge Island returned to their homes on the island to resume their lives, a higher percentage than in many other pre-war Japanese American communities in the U.S.

In 1982, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians found that the U.S. government's contention during World War II that the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast was necessary for military reasons was false. The Commission's report, Personal Justice Denied, stated that rather than military necessity, "The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologized to people of Japanese ancestry, saying, "here, we admit a wrong." The Act authorized redress of $20,000 to any Japanese American who had been incarcerated during WWII.

Today, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is situated near the water on the former location of the Eagledale ferry dock. The memorial commemorates the internment during World War II of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge. Visitors enter the Memorial through a traditional Japanese gate and walk along a path to view the outdoor Story Wall made of local cedar. The wall has survivor quotes, name plaques of those who were removed from the island, panels, and a series of terra cotta friezes depicting the story of the exclusion. In addition, visitors can walk through the landscape around the memorial, which was designed with native plants.

Last updated: February 20, 2019