Through grassroots organizing, court action, legislation, and lobbying, the Japanese American community led the nation to confront the injustice done to them during World War II.
The turbulent activism of the 1960s and ’70s encouraged the Japanese American community to seek redress. They persuaded President Gerald Ford to rescind Executive Order 9066 in 1976. By 1980 they successfully lobbied President Jimmy Carter to establish the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The final report, titled Personal Justice Denied, acknowledged there was no military necessity for incarcerating 75,000 American citizens or 45,000 Japanese nationals. The commission recommended a national apology, compensation payments, and the creation of a foundation to teach Americans about the dangers of racial intolerance.
In 1943, General John DeWitt, who had recommended that Japanese and Japanese Americans be taken into custody, prepared a report explaining the government’s action. The report indicated that his motivations were based more in racism than in military necessity; higher-ups quickly revised it and burned what they thought were all the copies. But in 1978 Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, who had spent four years in American incarceration camps, identified a marked-up copy of the original report in the National Archives. Armed with this and other documents, she and fellow activists successfully petitioned the government to hold hearings.
“No payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong: here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”