In July 1981, congressional hearings on Japanese American WWII incarceration began in the nation’s capitol. For two days, witnesses spoke out to expose the cruel facts and painful memories surrounding this history, and to lend their voices to a growing call for reparations. It was the first of eleven hearings that would make their way across the country, culminating in an official acknowledgement that the wartime government had acted on racial prejudice rather than “military necessity” — and a recommendation for monetary redress.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was created in 1980, after more than a decade of grassroots organizing and political lobbying. The nine-member committee, appointed by President Jimmy Carter and members of the House and Senate, was charged with investigating the facts surrounding the WWII exclusion of Japanese Americans, Aleut civilians forcibly removed from Alaska, and other American citizens and permanent residents.
Ultimately, more than 750 witnesses testified about the impact of the incarceration and its aftermath on their families and communities — many of them for the first time. “The hearings were electric,” Miya Iwataki, a core member of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, later wrote of the Los Angeles hearings. “Each testimony was a living narrative, a shared history which brought people closer together.”
As we mark this pivotal anniversary in the Japanese American redress movement, here’s a look back at some of the powerful images and testimonies that emerged during the CWRIC hearings.
By Nina Wallace, Densho Communications Coordinator