In February of 1942, just 10 weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government issued Executive Order 9066, calling for the internment of Japanese Americans. Intended initially to prevent Japanese spies from receiving intel, this order authorized their removal from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable” during World War II.

These areas covered much of the West Coast, where many Japanese-Americans resided, including California, Washington and Oregon. By June, more than 110,000 people would be forcibly removed from their homes and placed in prison camps scattered throughout the country.

Under the order, anyone with 1/16th or more of Japanese heritage was required to be removed. At first, about 15,000 Japanese Americans willingly moved to the designated areas. By March 24, the U.S. Army began leading the removals, giving people just six days of notice to clear out with their belongings.

Many of the Relocation Centers were meant as temporary holding spaces, but some people waited many months before receiving permanent placement. These centers were in remote areas and reconfigured hastily to house the masses that were sent there. Food shortages and poor sanitation were common in these facilities.

The Relocation Centers housed Japanese Americans in barracks, with multiple families living together in communal areas. Each functioned as its own town with schools, a post office, and farmland, all monitored by guards and closed off to the outside world with barbed wire fences.

Jobs were offered to the prisoners during their times at these isolated camps, with a range as wide as their professions outside the camps had been. However, a policy was put in place that no person would receive wages higher than an Army private while there, no matter how critical or specialized their job was.

By December 1944, the Supreme Court put an end to Japanese internment camps with its ruling in Ex parte Mitsuye Endo. In this case, the court stated the War Relocation Authority "has no authority to subject citizens who are concededly loyal to its leave procedure." 

The following month, Japanese American “evacuees” from the West Coast were finally allowed to return to their homes. The last camp did not close until March 1946.

The American Presidency with Bill Clinton

Explore the history of the U.S. presidency across six themed episodes: race, extremism, the struggle for rights, presidential vision and global power.