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 evacuated to internment camps scattered throughout the country.
Under the order, anyone with 1/16th or more of Japanese heritage was required to evacuate. At first, about 15,000 Japanese-Americans willingly moved to the designated areas. By March 24, the U.S. Army began leading the evacuations, 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 they were sending 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 detainees 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 in the Endo v. the United States case, ruling that 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 would finally be allowed to return to their homes. The last camp did not close until March 1946.
Want more HISTORY? Check out these stories: