Japanese Internment


In the aftermath of the attack by the Japanese Empire on U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor, the status and even loyalty of more than 140,000 citizens and resident aliens of Japanese heritage were in dispute. Even with State Department reports to the contrary, it was feared that a Japanese attack on U.S. mainland soil would be supported by this group of recent immigrants. In the hysteria following the attacks, Executive Order 9066 gave military authorities the right to remove those of Japanese ancestry to interior regions of the country. Despite the success of the United States at the Battle of Midway, making an attack on U.S. soil highly improbable, ten internment camps were created and more than 110,000 people were relocated for a period of several years (1942-1945).

As people who had made the United States their home, or had never known any other citizenship, those of Japanese heritage had a wide array of reactions to being stripped of their rights as citizens without due process. Despite recent actions to make amends for the treatment of Japanese Americans and resident aliens during WWII, the memory of uncertainty, rejection, and internment persist. To this end, students investigating this documentary kit explore the question:

What was the experience of the Japanese Americans interned in camps during WWII?

Introduction to Collection:

The primary source documents found in this collection are designed to provide both background about the Japanese internment camps and insight into the lives of the citizens living there. Personal perspectives can be gained through several letters, part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Educational resource, “Letters from the Japanese American Internment.” Excerpted from the Clara Breed collection at the Japanese American National Museum, these letters are the personal correspondence between Clara Breed, a San Diego children’s librarian, and the children who she helped at her library before their internment. On the day of their departure, she arrived at the train station to see them off, pressing each to write her on the self-addressed postcards she provided. In addition, excerpts from the Library of Congress’s online catalogue containing Ansel Adams’s work, Born Free and Equal, chronicles life in the camps and some American citizen’s objection to internment of a portion of the population based on race.

Also included are several framing documents which help students gain background and understanding. The naval dispatch from the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, found in the Library of Congress’ primary source archives. Two sources from Our Documents, a government compilation of seminal documents in American history are also incorporated, first, Executive Order 9066, calling for military control of the internment, and second, an excerpt from the 14th Amendment of 1866, which outlines the rights of citizenship.

Drawn primarily from the Ansel Adams collection and also from the National Archives, photos in this kit depict the announcement of internment, the uprooting of Japanese families, and their experience in the camps. Although known for his dramatic pictorial representations of the American West, Ansel Adams’s own life was touched by internment when a longtime employee of his parents was picked up and shipped to another state. He was then committed to chronicling the injustice of Japanese American internment at the Manzanar Camp with his camera, creating the book, Born Free and Equal. Viewing the images, student should focus on all elements of the picture, including the surroundings and backgrounds, in order to draw conclusions about the experience of these citizens.

The audio clips compiled for this kit are of two types: context and understanding. An interview excerpt from the Library of Congress’ American Memory “Man On the Street” collection helps shape students’ understanding of how an average American citizen reacted to the bombing on Pearl Harbor and why the hysteria for Japanese internment might have occurred. A segment of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech to a joint session of Congress on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack further solidifies this framework. Furthering understanding are two interviews with Japanese American veterans, who, although not interned themselves because they were already in the military, helped family members move to camps, visited them there, and sometimes experienced a feeling of disconnection both from the nation of which they were citizens and the people of similar heritage who were interned.



A partnership between the College of William & Mary School of Education, the University of Kentucky College of Education,
and the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program