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On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove civilians from military zones established in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California during WWII. In the months following the signing of E.O. 9066, removal notices issued by General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, were public posted on street corners across cities along the West Coast. Directed at all “Americans of Japanese ancestry,” both “alien and non-alien,” these posters gave Japanese American families one week to dispose of all but that which they could carry, and report to local Civil Control Stations for further instructions.

Over the course of the next few years, some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were forcibly removed and incarcerated without due process. They abandoned their jobs, their homes, and their lives to be sent to one of ten concentration camps scattered in desolate, remote regions of the country. No Japanese American was ever charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States. Yet they were targeted, rounded up, and imprisoned for years, simply for having the “face of the enemy.”

It was only decades later, through the efforts of determined and courageous community activists, that the United States government officially apologized for this dark period in our country’s history. The experience of the Japanese American community remains an enduring lesson on the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis, and the importance of remaining vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of all.

Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis: The Japanese American Incarceration will explore the WWII Japanese American incarceration experience through content that emphasizes universal issues of identity, community, patriotism, civil rights, and justice that continue to be relevant in the present day. Prominent scholars, noted community activists, and former internees will share their perspectives on various elements of the incarceration experience, including personal accounts of life in camp, its constitutional significance, expressions of patriotism and resistance, and the Redress Movement.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.