Important Moments in Japanese American History:
Before, During, and After World War II Mass Incarceration
March 26, 1790
The U.S. Congress, in the Act of March 26, 1790, states that “any alien, being a free white person who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for a term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof.”
The phrase “persons of African nativity or descent” is added to the language of the act of 1790, which is used to deny citizenship to Japanese and other Asian immigrants until 1952.
May 6, 1882
Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, ending Chinese immigration for the next 60 years.
Japanese laborers begin arriving in Hawaii, recruited by plantation owners to work the sugarcane fields.
September 2, 1885
Anti-Chinese rioters set fire to Chinatown in Rock Springs, Wyoming, killing 28 Chinese miners and wounding 15, as a result of a swelling anti-Chinese reaction over cheap labor and strikebreakers. All 16 white suspects were acquitted.
Japanese immigrants arrive on the mainland U.S. for work primarily as agricultural laborers.
June 27, 1894
A U.S. district court rules that Japanese immigrants cannot become citizens because they are not “a free white person” as the Naturalization Act of 1790 requires.
May 7, 1900
The first large-scale anti-Japanese protest in California is held, organized by various labor groups.
February 23, 1905
“The Japanese Invasion: The Problem of the Hour,” reads the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, helping to escalate racism towards the Japanese in the Bay Area.
May 14, 1905
The Asiatic Exclusion League is formed in San Francisco. In attendance are labor leaders and European immigrants, marking the first organized effort of the anti-Japanese movement.
October 11, 1906
The San Francisco Board of Education passes a resolution to segregate children of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ancestry from the majority population.
Japan and the U.S. agree (Gentlemen’s Agreement) to halt the migration of Japanese laborers in the United States. Japanese women are allowed to immigrate if they are wives of U.S. residents.
California passes the Alien Land Law, forbidding “all aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning land. This later grew to include prohibition on leasing land as well, and 12 other states adopted similar laws.
A new, more stringent 1920 Alien Land Law passes in California, intending to close loopholes found in the 1913 Alien Land Law.
Japanese American farmers produce $67 million dollars worth of crops, more than ten percent of California’s total crop value. There are 111,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S., 82,000 are immigrants and 29,000 were born in the U.S.
July 19, 1921
White vigilantes deport 58 Japanese laborers from Turlock, California, driving them out by truck at gunpoint. Other incidents occur across California and in Oregon and Arizona.
November 13, 1922
The United States Supreme Court rules on the Ozawa case, reaffirming the ban on Japanese immigrants from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. This ban would last until 1952.
Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1924 effectively ending all Japanese immigration to the U.S.
A U.S. Intelligence report known as the “Munson Report” commissioned by President Roosevelt concludes that the great majority of Japanese Americans are loyal to the U.S. and do not pose a threat to national security in the event of war with Japan.
December 7, 1941
Japan bombs U.S. ships and planes at the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii. Over 3,500 servicemen are wounded or killed. Martial law is declared in Hawaii.
December 7, 1941
The FBI begins arresting Japanese immigrants identified as community leaders: priests, Japanese language teachers, newspaper publishers, and heads of organizations. Within 48 hours, 1,291 are arrested. Most of these men would be incarcerated for the duration of the war, separated from their families.
December 8, 1941
A declaration of war against Japan is brought by the President and passed by Congress.
December – January 1941
The FBI searches thousands of Japanese American homes on the West Coast for contraband. Short wave radios, cameras, heirloom swords, and explosives used for clearing stumps in agriculture are among the items confiscated.
December 11, 1941
The Western Defense Command is established with Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt as the commander.
December 15, 1941
Without any evidence of sabotage, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox announces to the press, “I think the most effective Fifth Column work of the entire war was done in Hawaii…”
February 19, 1942
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 authorizing military authorities to exclude civilians from any area without trial or hearing. The order did not specify Japanese Americans–but they were the only group to be imprisoned as a result of it.
February 25, 1942
The U.S. Navy orders all Japanese Americans living on Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles–some 500 families–to leave within 48 hours. As the first group to be removed en masse, they incur especially heavy losses.
General DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command issues Public Proclamation No. 1 and begins the process of removing all persons of Japanese ancestry—U.S. citizens and aliens alike—living in the western halves of Washington State, California, Oregon, and parts of Arizona. A curfew goes into effect in these areas–all those of Japanese ancestry must remain at home from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The Wartime Civil Control Administration opens 15 “Assembly Centers” to detain approximately 92,000 men, women, and children until the permanent incarceration camps are completed.
March 5, 1942
The State of California “releases” 34 Japanese American civil servants from their jobs.
March 18, 1942
The President signs Executive Order 9102 establishing the War Relocation Authority with Milton Eisenhower as director.
March 24, 1942
The first Civilian Exclusion Order is issued by the Army for Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington. Forty-five families are given one week to prepare. By the end of October 1942, 108 exclusion orders would be issued.
March 27, 1942
“Voluntary evacuation” ends as the Army prohibits the changing of residence for all Japanese Americans in the western halves of Washington State, California and Oregon.
March 28, 1942
Minoru Yasui walks into a Portland police station to surrender himself for arrest in order to test the curfew regulations in court.
The incarcerees begin transfer to permanent WRA incarceration facilities or “camps.” They total ten: Manzanar, Poston, Gila River, Topaz, Granada, Heart Mountain, Minidoka, Tule Lake, Jerome, and Rohwer.
May 16, 1942
University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi turns himself in to the authorities with a four-page statement explaining why he would not submit to the imprisonment on Constitutional grounds.
June 3 – 6, 1942
The Allied victory at the Battle of Midway is significant, thus turning the advantage in the war to the United States.
July 12, 1942
Mitsuye Endo’s attorney files a writ of habeas corpus on her behalf. The case wouldn’t be decided upon until December 1944, but its ruling would signal the end of the incarceration camps.
July 27, 1942
Two men are shot to death by a camp guard while allegedly trying to escape from the Lordsburg, New Mexico, internment camp. Both men had been too ill to walk from the train station to the camp gate prior to being shot.
The War Department announces the formation of a segregated unit of Japanese American soldiers, and calls for volunteers in Hawaii (where Japanese Americans were not incarcerated) and from among the men incarcerated in the camps.
10,000 Japanese American men volunteer for the armed services from Hawaii. 1,200 volunteer out of the camps.
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the curfew order in Hirabayashi v. U.S. and Yasui v. U.S.
From the results of the “loyalty questionnaire,” “loyal” incarcerees from Tule Lake begin to depart to other camps and “disloyal” incarcerees from other camps begin to arrive at Tule Lake.
The War Department imposes the draft on Japanese American men, including those incarcerated in the camps. The vast majority comply, a few hundred resist and are brought up on federal charges. Most of the resisters are imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.
May 10, 1944
63 Heart Mountain draft resisters are indicted by a federal grand jury. On June 26 the 63 are found guilty and sentenced to jail terms. The 63 were pardoned on December 24, 1947, by President Truman.
January 2, 1945
The War Department announces that the exclusion orders are rescinded after the Supreme Court rules in the Endo case that “loyal” citizens could not be lawfully detained. Japanese Americans cleared to leave the concentration camps are now free to return to the West Coast.
May 7, 1945
Germany surrenders, ending the war in Europe.
August 6, 1945
The U.S. drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrenders on August 14.
Some 44,000 people still remain in the camps. Many have nowhere to go, having lost their homes and jobs. Many are afraid of anti-Japanese hostility and refuse to leave.
March 20, 1946
Tule Lake “Segregation Center” closes. This is the last War Relocation Authority facility to close.
July 15, 1946
“You not only fought the enemy but you fought prejudice… and you won.” These were the words of President Truman on the White House lawn as he received the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
President Truman signs the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act. Approximately $38 million was paid from this act, only a small fraction of the estimated loss in income and property.
The Senate and House override President Truman’s veto and vote the
McCarran-Walter Act into law. Among other effects, this bill grants Japan a token immigration quota and allows Japanese immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians is established calling for a congressional committee to investigate the detention program and the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians holds hearings in 10 locations. They hear testimony from over 750 witnesses.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians issues its report, Personal Justice Denied, on February 24 and its Recommendations, on June 16. The Recommendations call for a presidential apology and a $20,000 payment to each of the approximately 60,000 surviving persons excluded from their places of residence pursuant to Executive Order 9066.
1983 – 1988
The wartime convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu (the three men who protested the curfew and/or incarceration orders) are vacated (“nullified”) on the basis of newly discovered evidence that the U.S. military lied to the Supreme Court in the original proceedings.
August 10, 1988
President Ronald Reagan signs HR 442 into law. It acknowledges that the incarceration of more than 110,000 individuals of Japanese descent was unjust, and offers an apology and reparation payments of $20,000 to each person incarcerated.
October 9, 1990
In a Washington D.C. ceremony, the first nine redress payments are made.
March 3, 1992
Public Law 102-248 establishes the Manzanar National Historic Site, making Manzanar the first former Japanese American concentration camp site to become a National Park Service Unit. Subsequently, the Minidoka (2001), Tule Lake (2008, as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument), and Honouliuli (2015) have become NPS units.
June 12, 1998
The federal government settles Mochizuki, et al. v. USA, a lawsuit brought on behalf of Japanese Latin American internees that results in a letter of apology and $5,000 in reparations to surviving internees. Efforts to secure redress comparable to that granted Japanese Americans are ongoing.
The California Civil Liberties Public Education Act is signed into law, creating a grant program for educational resources about the World War II incarceration that would award some $9 million in grants over a twelve year period. The state of Washington introduced a similar program in 2000.
November 9, 2000
National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II dedicated in Washington, DC.
December 21, 2006
Public Law 109-441 authorizes what would become the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program administered by the National Park Service. Up to $38 million in grants to “identify, evaluate, interpret, protect, restore, repair, and acquire” former confinement sites was authorized. The first grants were awarded in 2009.