Japanese American Internment Era Collection

On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. EO 9066 was the catalyst that led to the forced incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry in America whether they were US citizens or aliens. The newly created Army agency, the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), first handled the “evacuation” of Japanese Americans. Afterwards, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) was the government agency that systematized and managed the internment process. Ten WRA relocation centers were established throughout the western and interior regions of the US and served as crude camps in which internees lived during the war years. On September 4, 1945, Public Proclamation No. 24 was issued revoking the exclusion orders against people of Japanese ancestry.

During WWII almost 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from the West Coast regions that were deemed military exclusion zones, moved cities and states away, and controlled under severe restrictions. We can better understand the lives, experiences, and stories of these people by studying objects within the National Museum of American History’s collection. The objects tell us about particular people as well as about general life in the war relocation centers. From the stories attached to these objects, we see that people tried to carry on with life as close to normal as possible and had to make difficult decisions about an uncertain future. This collection gives us a unique opportunity to better understand the harrowing experiences of a particular episode in our nation’s not too distant past.

  • Two policemen post signs regarding the internment of Japanese Americans, 1942.
  • Turlock Assembly Center, May 2, 1942. Photo by Dorthea Lange.
  • Santa Anita Assembly Center, March 31, 1942. Photo by Clem Albers.
  • Tule Lake War Relocation Center, September 26, 1943. Photo by Charles E. Mace.
  • Minidoka War Relocation Center, Christmas 1944.
  • Photo by Hikaru Iwasaki, September 1944.