On February 19, Americans paused to remember the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II with events that commemorated the date in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.
About 127,000 Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps under that order.
Congress did not oppose Roosevelt, and the Supreme Court reinforced his order with its decision in Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.
Through events that keep the memory of that time alive, participants hope to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated, and that civil liberties are not sacrificed on the altar of national security.
For survivors, the memories of that time remain vivid. When he was a child, actor and human rights activist George Takei and his family were forced into an internment camp. Seventy years later, Takei reflects on how the camp shaped his personal definitions of patriotism and democracy.
“[My father] suffered the most under those conditions of imprisonment, and yet he understood American democracy,” Takei said in June 2014. “He told me that our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are. He told me that American democracy is vitally dependent on good people who cherish the ideals of our system and actively engage in the process of making our democracy work.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided payments and apologies to the people who were forcibly relocated. One of the bill’s sponsors was U.S. Representative Norman Mineta, who had been interned at a camp in Wyoming. “We gather here today to right a grave wrong,” Reagan said at the signing ceremony.
Congress decreed in 2001 that the 10 sites of detainee camps be preserved as historical landmarks, saying “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.”