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Japanese American Internment

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established 10 internment camps for "national security" purposes.
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About the images

The images in this group offer a picture of what one Japanese American Internment camp looked like. Paintings, created by internees, depict what it felt like to be interned there. The camp photographs were taken at Manzanar War Relocation Center, an internment camp in Eastern California's Owens Valley, now a national historic site open to visitors.


After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established 10 internment camps for "national security" purposes. Although most internment camps were along the West Coast, others could be found in Wyoming and Colorado, and as far east as Arkansas. One photo shows Japanese American boys in San Francisco shortly before the evacuation order; another shows a woman waiting for the evacuation bus in Hayward; approximately 660 people being evacuated by bus from San Francisco on the first day of the program; and an aerial image of people sitting on their belongings, waiting to be taken to Manzanar.

The government-sponsored War Relocation Authority (WRA) hired Dorothea Lange and other photographers to take pictures of the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans. Lange’s photographs, some of which were suppressed by the WRA and only released later, often capture the irony inherent in the situation. Although internees were allowed to take only what they could carry with them to the camps, one Lange photo juxtaposes a bus poster "Such a load off my mind — Bekins stored my things" next to a pile of internees' belongings. Another striking Lange image shows a Japanese American-owned corner store with a large "I am an American" banner hanging beneath a "Sold" sign.

Another photograph of an engine's distributor, removed from a car owned by an internee, showed that people were truly prisoners at the camp, unable to drive their own cars away. Several paintings by interned Japanese American artists Henry Sugimoto and Hisako Hibi reflect their emotional experiences and give viewers a sense of what life was like for them. The paintings express the pain, suffering, and anger of those subjected to internment.

Over 100,000 Japanese American men, women, and children were relocated and detained at these camps. Photographs here show people of all ages, including a grandfather and grandchild, and young children. This internment is now recognized as a violation of their human and civil rights. In 1980, the US government officially apologized and reparations were paid to survivors.

See Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive for more images.

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"Japanese American Internment" was curated and written by the University of California in 2005.

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The text of this exhibition is available under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. You are free to share and adapt it however you like, provided you provide attribution as follows:

Japanese American Internment curated by University of California staff, available under a CC BY 4.0 license. © 2005, Regents of the University of California.