Monday, January 19, 2015

A Conversation with Fred Korematsu

Excerpts from a public conversation with Fred Korematsu. He was the U.S. citizen who during World War II refused to comply with U.S. military orders directing his exclusion, because he was of Japanese ancestry, from his native California to an internment camp in the western interior of the United States. 

For that refusal, Korematsu was charged and convicted of a federal crime. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, losing in December 1944 a 6-3 decision that upheld the constitutionality of military racial discrimination in the interest of national security. In these excerpts, Korematsu describes: 

(1) his path from an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, to work in Salt Lake City and Detroit; 
(2) learning from his ACLU attorney Ernest Bessig that the Court had ruled against him; 
(3) the condition of his family's California nursery when he finally returned from the "concentration camp"; 
(4) attorney and professor Peter Irons (who "looked like Jesus") persuading him in the 1980s to reopen his case; (5) public ignorance about the internment of Japanese-Americans and his enthusiasm about talking to students; (6) internment's contemporary relevance as an issue of race; and 
(7), in response to a teacher's question, the need for students and all to fight for individual rights. 

The questioner was John Q. Barrett, Professor of Law at St. John's University and Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center. With Fred Korematsu were his wife Kathryn and documentary filmmaker Eric Paul Fournier. This conversation, sponsored by the Jackson Center, occurred at Chautauqua Institution on September 26, 2002.

Topaz Museum is now open with an inaugural art show.

Japanese American WWII Internment Camp

The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII was one of the worst violations of civil rights against citizens in the history of the United States. The government and the US Army, falsely citing “military necessity,” locked up over 110,000 men, women and children in ten remote camps controlled by the War Relocation Administration and four male-only camps controlled by the Justice Department. These Americans were never convicted or even charged with any crime, yet were incarcerated for up to four years in prison camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
Internment Camp

The story of these camps has become better known after President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and President George H.W. Bush issued a formal apology and token monetary compensation to all former internees. However, the events and causes of this tragic page in history must never be forgotten. If we can understand what occurred and why, we can insure that a similar denial of civil rights will never happen to any future generation of Americans.

This website contains information about one of the WRA camps, Topaz, which was located 16 miles northwest of Delta in central Utah, on the lip of the Great Basin. Topaz processed 11,212 people through the camp while it was in operation from September 11, 1942 to October 31, 1945.

The Topaz Museum Board, a non-profit, volunteer organization, owns 634 acres of the Topaz site, which was one square mile. The camp begins at 10000 West 4500 North, outside of Delta, Utah. The Museum Board is now seeking funding to build the Topaz Museum on Delta's Main Street.

List of Detention Camps, Temporary Detention Centers, and Department of Justice Internment Camps

Permanent detention camps that held internees from March, 1942 until their closing in 1945 and 1946.
Amache (Granada), Colorado Opened August 24, 1942. Closed October 15, 1945. Peak population 7318. Origin of prisoners: Nothern California coast, West Sacramento Valley, Northern San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles. 31 Japanese Americans from Amache volunteered and lost their lives in World War II. 120 died here between August 27, 1942 and October 14, 1945. In April, 1944, 36 draft resisters were sent to Tucson, AZ Federal Prison.
Gila River, Arizona Opened July 20, 1942. Closed November 10, 1945. Peak Population 13,348. Origin of prisoners: Sacramento Delta, Fresno County, Los Angeles area. Divided into Canal Camp and Butte Camp. Over 1100 citizens from both camps served in the U.S. Armed Services. The names of 23 war dead are engraved on a plaque here. The State of Arizona accredited the schools in both camps. 97 students graduated from Canal High School in 1944. Nearly 1000 prisoners worked in the 8000 acres of farmland around Canal Camp, growing vegetables and raising livestock.2 
Heart Mountain, Wyoming Opened August 12, 1942. Closed November 10, 1945. Peak population 10,767. Origin of prisoners: Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Central Washington. In November, 1942, Japanese American hospital workers walked out because of pay discrimination between Japanese American and Caucasian American workers. In July, 1944, 63 prisoners who had resisted the draft were convicted and sentenced to 3 years in prison. The camp was made up of 468 buildings, divided into 20 blocks. Each block had 2 laundry-toilet buildings. Each building had 6 rooms each. Rooms ranged in size from 16' x 20' to 20' x 24'. There were 200 administrative employees, 124 soldiers, and 3 officers. Military police were stationed in 9 guard towers, equipped with high beam search lights, and surrounded by barbed wire fencing around the camp.
Jerome, Arkansas Opened October 6, 1942. Closed June 30, 1944. Peak population 8497. Origin of prisoners: Central San Joaquin Valley, San Pedro Bay area. After the Japanese Americans in Jerome were moved to Rohwer and other camps or relocated to the east in June, 1944, Jerome was used to hold German POWs. 
Manzanar, California Opened March 21, 1942. Closed November 21, 1945. Peak population 10,046. Origin of prisoners: Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, San Joaquin County, Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was the first of the ten camps to open -- initially as a processing center. 
Minidoka, Idaho Opened August 10, 1942. Closed October 28, 1945. Peak population 9397. Origin of prisoners: Seattle and Pierce County, Washington, Portland and Northwestern Oregon. 73 Minidoka prisoners died in military service.
Poston (aka Colorado River), Arizona Opened May 8, 1942. Closed November 28, 1945. Peak population 17,814. Origin of prisoners: Southern California, Kern County, Fresno, Monterey Bay Area, Sacramento County, Southern Arizona. 24 Japanese Americans held at Poston later lost their lives in World War II. Poston was divided into three separate camps -- I, II, and III.
Rohwer, Arkansas Opened September 18, 1942. Closed November 30, 1945. Peak population 8475. Origin of prisoners: Los Angeles and Stockton.
Topaz (aka Central Utah), Utah Opened September 11, 1942. Closed October 31, 1945. Peak population 8130. Origin of prisoners: San Francisco Bay Area.
Tule Lake, California Opened May 27, 1942. Closed March 20, 1946. Peak population 18,789. Origin of prisoners: Sacramento area, Southwestern Oregon, and Western Washington; later, segregated internees were brought in from all West Coast states and Hawaii. One of the most turbulent camps -- prisoners held frequent protest demonstrations and strikes.


Temporary detention centers were used from late March, 1942 until mid-October, 1942, when internees were moved to the ten more permanent internment prisons. These temporary sites were mainly located on large fairgrounds or race tracks in visible and public locations. It would be impossible for local populace to say that they were unaware of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. 
Tanforan Temporary Detention Center
Tanforan Temporary Detention Center, San Bruno, CA
Fresno, California First inmate arrival May 6, 1942. Last inmate departure October 30, 1942. Peak population 5120.

Manzanar, California First inmate arrival March 21, 1942. Peak population (before June 1, 1942) 9666. Before it was leased from the City of Los Angeles, Manzanar was once ranch and farm land until it reverted to desert conditions. Manzanar was transfered from the WCCA to WRA on June 1, 1942, and converted into a "relocation camp."

Marysville, California First inmate arrival May 8, 1942. Last inmate departure June 29, 1942. Peak population 2451.

Mayer, Arizona First inmate arrival May 7, 1942. Last inmate departure June 2, 1942. Peak population 245. Mayer was a camp abaondoned by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

Merced, California First inmate arrival May 6, 1942. Last inmate departure September 15, 1942. Peak population 4508.

Pinedale, California First inmate arrival May 7, 1942. Last inmate departure July 23, 1942. Peak population 4792. Pinedale was the previous site of a mill.

Pomona, California First inmate arrival May 7, 1942. Last inmate departure August 24, 1942. Peak population 5434.

Portland, Oregon First inmate arrival May 2, 1942. Last inmate departure September 10, 1942. Peak population 3676. Portland used the Pacific International Live Stock Exposition Facilities to hold detainees.

Puyallup, Washington First inmate arrival April 28, 1942. Last inmate departure September 12, 1942. Peak population 7390.5

Sacramento, California First inmate arrival May 6, 1942. Last inmate departure June 26, 1942. Peak population 4739. Sacramento used a former migrant camp.

Salinas, California First inmate arrival April 27, 1942. Last inmate departure July 4, 1942. Peak population 3594. 

Santa Anita, California First inmate arrival March 27, 1942. Last inmate departure October 27, 1942. Peak population 18,719. 

Stockton, California First inmate arrival May 10, 1942. Last inmate departure October 17, 1942. Peak population 4271. 

Tanforan, San Bruno, California First inmate arrival April 28, 1942. Last inmate departure October 13, 1942. Peak population 7816. Tanforan is now a large shopping mall by the same name.

Tulare, California First inmate arrival April 20, 1942. Last inmate departure September 4, 1942. Peak population 4978. 

Turlock, Byron, California First inmate arrival April 30, 1942. Last inmate departure August 12, 1942. Peak population 3662.

27 U.S. Department of Justice Camps (most at Crystal City, Texas, but also Seagoville, Texas; Kooskia, Idaho; Santa Fe, NM; and Ft. Missoula, Montana) were used to incarcerate 2,260 "dangerous persons" of Japanese ancestry taken from 12 Latin American countries by the US State and Justice Departments. Approximately 1,800 were Japanese Peruvians. 

The U.S. government wanted them as bargaining chips for potential hostage exchanges with Japan, and actually did use. After the war, 1400 were prevented from returning to their former country, Peru. 

Over 900 Japanese Peruvians were deported to Japan. 300 fought it in the courts and were allowed to settle in Seabrook, NJ. Efforts to bring justice to the Japanese Peruvians are still active; for information contact Grace Shimizu, 510-528-7288.
Santa Fe, NM
Bismarck, ND
Crystal City, TX
Missoula, MT
Seagoville, Texas
Kooskia, Idaho
Ft. MissoulaFt. Missoula, Montana Internment Camp

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