In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, the original Executive Order 9066 as well as the 1988 law are on display in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from June 16 to August 19, 2013. Today’s blog post comes from curator Bruce Bustard.
“Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.” —President Ronald Reagan, remarks on signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988
On February 19, 1942, ten weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which permitted military commanders to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded.” While the order did not mention any group by name, it profoundly affected the lives of Japanese Americans.
In March and April, Gen. John L. DeWitt issued a series of “Exclusion Orders” directed at “all persons of Japanese ancestry” in the Western Defense Command. These orders led to the forced evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American permanent residents and Japanese American citizens at 10 major camps and dozens of smaller sites. Held behind barbed wire and watched by armed guards, many Japanese Americans lost their homes and possessions. Congress passed laws enforcing the order with almost no debate, and the Supreme Court affirmed these actions.
Forty-six years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The law, which was preceded by a detailed historical study by a congressional commission, judged the incarceration “a grave injustice” that was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” It offered an apology and $20,000 in restitution to each survivor.
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, the National Archives is exhibiting the original Executive Order 9066 as well as the 1988 law. The National Archives holds hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the incarceration, including the personal records of those detained, photographs and films of life in the camps, and documentation of the administration of the camps.