Read untold history in “Japanese-American Relocation Camp Newspapers”

The online resource “Japanese-American Relocation Camp Newspapers: Perspectives On Day-To-Day Life” brings together 25 individual newspaper titles from the Library of Congress. The database contains 24,838 PDF images documenting life from 1942 through 1945 in what were known as “relocation centers” but were in the truest sense concentration camps where Japanese Americans were confined for the duration of World War II.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States forcibly removed all Americans of Japanese ancestry who lived near “sensitive areas” on the West Coast. Without charging them with crimes, the government sent them with only what they could carry to the interior of the American West. For being born Japanese, they were made to live in areas fenced with barbed wire in crowded barracks and even converted stables that offered poor protection against desert heat and mountain cold. Their abrupt “exclusion” from everything they had known violated their civil rights and deprived them of their property, which was sold off to speculators at a fraction of its worth.

The appalling conditions of their new reality did not rob them of a sense of community, however, as shown in this digital record of the day-to-day life of the interned Americans. Most of the papers are in English or in dual text, and many of the 25 titles are complete or substantially complete. Editions have been carefully collated and omissions are noted.

The names of publications established by the camps’ supposedly “alien” occupants indicate how truly American they were: Rohwer Outpost, Poston Chronicle, Gila News Courier, Tulean Dispatch, Granada Pioneer, Minndoka Irrigator, Topaz Times, Manzanar Free Press, Denson Tribune, and Heart Mountain Sentinel.

Being incarcerated did not exempt Japanese Americans from being drafted by the Armed forces to fight fascism in Europe, however. In the Heart Mountain camp in northern Wyoming, many young men resisted the draft, offering to end the protest only on condition that they be released and have their civil rights restored. Many from the camps, including 649 from Heart Mountain, did indeed risk their lives to serve in World War II.

On December 30, 1944, the Heart Mountain Sentinel ran a statement by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes haling the cooperation of Japanese Americans in their own “evacuation,” excusing the action as a “military necessity.” It may have been with a sense of irony that on the same page the Sentinel included an editorial reprinted from an armed services newspaper deploring the treatment of disabled Private Raymond Matsuda who was ejected from an Arizona barbershop because of his race. Matsuda was one of the many soldiers wounded while serving in the famed “Purple Heart Battalion” composed exclusively of Japanese Americans. In the article, the camp’s residents who had spent two years behind barbed wire because their neighbors and government viewed them as suspicious aliens were informed that the United States kills “fascists because it’s our idea that people from every race and of every tongue should keep on living in our country as good neighbors.”

You can read more journalism about life in the internment camps in “Japanese-American Relocation Camp Newspapers: Perspectives on Day-to-Day Life,” found in the Library’s A-Z Databases list.

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