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c. 1940s

The haunting family farewells of WWII Japanese Americans

Photos document the move into internment camps

A woman waves farewell, a tag identifying her as a Japanese American internee.

The American men, women and children you see here had one thing in common: Japanese ancestry.  And after the attack on Pearl Harbor by hostile Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, that ancestry alone was enough to see them evicted and evacuated from their homes.

To provide a legal platform for this forced removal, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, giving the Army General in charge of the west coast the authority to remove Japanese immigrants and their children from parts of California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and other Western states.

In less than a year, all people of Japanese ancestry had been instructed to appear at assembly centers, often racetracks or fairgrounds, where they stayed until removed to what were called “relocation centers,” a euphemism for concentration camps. This applied both to U.S. citizens and non-citizens,

Around 120,000 individuals were “relocated”, their homes left empty, their businesses,  and indeed possessions, abandoned. 

March 1942: A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store. The owner, a University of California graduate, was housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war. Oakland, California.
Dorothea Lange / Library of Congress
Santa Anita reception center, Los Angeles, California.
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
A child in Los Angeles
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Reading evacuation orders on a bulletin board at the Maryknoll mission in Seattle.
Russell Lee/Library of Congress
Waving good-bye to friends and relatives who are leaving for Owens Valley, California, where one of the internment camps were based.
Russell Lee/Library of Congress
Two Japanese boys, one with “Remember Pearl Harbor” on his hat, wave good-bye awaiting the bus in San Francisco
Signal Corps / Library of Congress
Waiting at the old Santa Fe station in New Mexico.
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress
Russell Lee / Library of Congress

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