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Nisei Digital Exhibit: Japanese American Incarceration after Pearl Harbor

Learn more about the Nisei Collection from the Fishburn Archives, which digitized more than 2,100 artifacts from the second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) students who enrolled at Park and other Missouri universities after WWII.
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History of Nisei Population in the U.S.

The Aftermath of Pearl Harbor

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, approximately120,000 individuals of Japanese heritage lived in the United States. Two-thirds were full citizens, born and raised in the U.S.

Following the attack, a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration to detain Japanese Americans in internment camps for most of World War II. This violated the constitutional rights of these citizens, under a veneer of "national security." On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed mass removal and detention of Japanese Americans without trial. This action ignored the 1941 Munson Report findings, which concluded that Japanese Americans posted "little threat to security."

Historical Images - Exclusion and Detainment

Civilian Exclusion Order

The Seattle Star: San Francisco's Mayor Wants Exclusion Act to Bar the Japs

Japanese Americans Arriving at an Assembly Center in Stockton, California

Store in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

The Church and Japanese Evacuation

Historical Images - Resettlement and Reparations

Newspaper including an article on the situation at Park College and Parkville

Bulletin from the Committee on National Security and Fair Play titled The Bottleneck in Japanese Resettlement

Letter outlining governmental policies and intent to continue education for American-Japanese students

Report concerning issues with Japanese American relocation

Arresting and Detaining Japanese Americans

The Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, and the Army's G-2 intelligence unit joined forces to arrest over 3,000 "subversives," half of whom were Japanese. The newly-created War Relocation Authority moved evacuated Japanese into "relocation centers," or "assembly centers" for the rest of the war. Ten concentration camps were quickly created in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, California, and Idaho. Living conditions were terrible; one assembly center in Santa Anita housed families in horse stalls with dirt floors. Families were often forced to live together, with little privacy, and armed guards and barbed-wire fences restricted their freedom of movement. Camp residents had to do everything communally, sharing meals, restroom and laundry facilities, and work sites. Pay for labor and medical care were deeply inadequate. But despite the atrocities they faced, incarcerated Japanese established newspapers, markets, schools, and even police and fire departments within the camps. 


In December 1944, after facing pressure from local and state leaders who objected to the detainment, the Roosevelt administration declared the period of "military necessity" for relocation over, and Japanese Americans were allowed to move back to their homes. Their time in the camps had serious and detrimental consequences; camp residents lost $400 million in property during their incarceration. The cultural impact was significant as well. Before the war, most Japanese Americans adhered to the sociocultural customs of their oldest generation (the Issei), which often meant they isolated themselves from mainstream American society. After living in the camps, second-generation Japanese Americans (the Nisei), became some of the best-educated and most successful members of their communities.


In 1970, the Japanese American community petitioned the U.S. government requesting compensation for their unjust treatment during World War II. Congress formed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians on July 12, 1980. Hearings were held across the country to examine the facts surrounding Executive Order 9066. On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed HR 442, directing the Attorney General to issue an apology and a $20,000 payment to each internee. The first reparations check was issued on October 9, 1990.

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