Chapter 11
The Movement for Redress and Reparations

By Wendy Ng, San Jose State University

The Issei Memorial Building in San Jose's Japantown. It has served many functions in the past, including a stint as the area hospital. Today, community non-profits rent office space there. KTEH
By the 1960s, Japanese Americans were no longer confined to living in the Japantowns of San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, or the family farm. They moved out and were able to purchase homes in middle class suburban neighborhoods. The Sansei (third generation) children had lives filled with school activities, sports, and summer vacations, instead of long days spent toiling in the fields of the family farm. Still, San Jose's Nihonmachi continued to serve as the heart of the Japanese American community. The Buddhist Church Betsuin, Wesley United Methodist Church, and the Issei Memorial Building (formerly the Kuwabara Hospital) became the focal point of activities. Over the next twenty years, as Silicon Valley began to grow and develop, the remaining Japanese American farmers began to sell their land. Office buildings inhabited by high tech companies and tract housing replaced the acreage once owned by Japanese American farmers.

The Sansei (third generation) grew up at a very different time than their Nisei parents. Their parents had experienced the dislocating effects of the war—incarcerated in American concentration camps. The Sansei grew up as a part of the "baby boomer" generation, born after the end of World War II through the beginning of the 1960s. The Civil Rights era profoundly influenced the college educated Sansei, who began to question the internment and the violation of civil liberties. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a grassroots movement began on college campuses to demand redress and a formal apology from the United States government.

The beginnings of redress began as soon as the camps closed in 1946. In 1948, the Evacuations Claims Act gave some redress in the form of monetary compensation for losses incurred from the wartime evacuation. But many believe that the compensation was inadequate, with the government paying only ten cents for every dollar of property loss that could be documented. It was not until 1978 that the Japanese American Citizens League formally took a position and began to seek redress for those individuals who were forced to evacuate and move from their homes due to the war. The JACL and the National Committee for Redress decided to pursue redress through legislative action and worked with Congress to establish a government commission to study the effects of the displacement of citizens during World War II.

In 1981, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Evacuation of Civilians (CWRIC) was formed. It was charged with holding hearings in cities throughout the United States and gathered testimony from former internees about their evacuation and living conditions. These oral hearings, coupled with voluminous research about the World War II evacuation and internment program, produced the Commission's important landmark book, Personal Justice Denied.

President Ronald Reagan, flanked by Japanese American leaders, August 10, 1988 at the signing ceremony of the Civil Liberties Act that finally gave Japanese Americans redress and reparations. President Ronald Reagan Library From left to right: Sen. Daniel Inouye (HI), unidentified observer, Rep. Patricia Saiki (HI), Sen. Pete Wilson (CA), President Reagan, Rep. Don Young (AK), Rep. Robert Matsui (CA) and Robert K. Bratt, Justice Dept. Administrator. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Three other very important cases were also brought to light in the 1980s. In separate cases, Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi challenged the curfew and evacuation orders issued by the government. Their cases were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court found that the government had the right to enact the curfew and evacuation orders because it was wartime. In the early 1980s, legal historian Peter Irons found documents that showed the government had intentionally dismissed evidence that Japanese Americans would not be a security threat to the U.S. government. This allowed Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi, to return to their court cases that were heard by the Supreme Court in 1944. Thus, this new information led to the reevaluation of the original court convictions. This, coupled with the growing momentum for Redress, made the stage ripe for developing a mass movement to work through legislative and grass roots channels to campaign for monetary redress for former evacuees and internees.

By the late 1980s, with the assistance of Japanese American senators and congressman, Congress had approved the passage of redress funds for former internees who were moved and relocated during World War II. Redress payments of $20,000 were paid to the oldest survivors first. In successive years, other survivors received their compensation. Individuals received a formal letter of apology from the President, either George Bush (Sr.) or Bill Clinton (depending on the time of the receipt of the application).

For many Japanese Americans, the monetary compensation was not the main goal. Redress and reparations funds needed to go beyond that, providing educational programs and materials that would educate the public about the issues of civil rights and liberties in the United States. The Japanese American experience can serve as an example of the rights of citizens and to educate today's population about the importance of learning from history.

Resource Materials

Books for younger students:

There are very few books on the topic of Japanese American redress and reparation for younger students. However, new material is being published continuously and more books may be available in the future.

Books for older students and researchers:

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982. Comprehensive report on evacuation and internment of Japanese, Aleuts, and Pribolof Islanders during World War II.

Hatamiya, Leslie T. Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (1994) Stanford University Press, ISBN: 0804723664. Hatamiya describes the story of the long and bitter political struggle in Congress to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a law to pay reparations to former camp inmates.

Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. (1983) Oxford University Press, ASIN: 019503497X. Peter Irons' exhaustive research has uncovered a government campaign of suppression, alteration, and destruction of crucial evidence that could have persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down the internment order

Irons, Peter. Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases (1989) Wesleyan University Press, ASIN: 0819561754.

Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H. L. Kitano and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. (1999) University of Illinois Press, ISBN: 0252067649. Maki, Kitano, and Berthold have written a well-documented account of the redress movement for Americans of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. Available at

Shimabokuro, Robert S. Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (2001) University of Washington Press, ISBN-10: 0295981423. Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro recounts the 20-year battle undertaken by Seattle activists seeking official apology and financial compensation for the imprisoned citizens and permanent residents. Available at

Takezawa, Yasuko. Breaking the Silence: Redress and Japanese American Ethnicity. (1995) Cornell University Press, ISBN: 0801481813. This book is an anthology of works about the Redress and talks in depth about Day of Remembrance. Available at


Pilgrimage (2006) Tadashi Nakamura, Producer. Pilgrimage is the first film to show how the WWII camps were reclaimed by the children of its victims and how the Manzanar Pilgrimage now has fresh meaning for diverse generations of people who realize that when the US government herded thousands of innocent Americans into what the government itself called concentration camps, it was failure of democracy that would affect all Americans. This film features a hip hop music track and some archival footage shot by Nakamura's father during his own pilgrimage to Manzanar in the 1960's. (37 minutes) Available from CAAM, Resettlement to Redress: Rebirth of the Japanese American Community, Don Young, Producer (2005) This film takes a close look at the long and difficult journey Japanese Americans faced as they transitioned from being forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, to readjustment to society upon their release. Some never returned to their previous homes, settling instead in other parts of the U.S., including Salt Lake City, Denver, and Seabrook, New Jersey. Eventually though, pilgrimages to relocation centers and the empowering activist climate of the 1960s played a key role in bringing people together, building increasing momentum to seek redress from the U.S. government. (55 minutes) Available at the Japanese American National Museum store, or through CAAM at

After Silence, Civil Rights and the Japanese-American Experience, Lois Shelton, director (2003) available at This film poses the question "What does it mean to be an American in a time of uncertainty and fear?" The subject area is the fragile nature of civil rights, and it explores the Japanese American internment through the lens of 9/11. (30 minutes.)

Of Civil Rights and Wrongs: The Fred Korematsu Story (1999) produced by Eric Paul Fournier, this documentary originally appeared on the PBS series POV. Fred Korematsu challenged the US government in the courts on the legality of internment. The ruling eventually paved the way for legislation. (60 minutes) Available from CAAM, or Japanese American National Museum store,

A Personal Matter: Gordon Hirabayashi vs. the United States (1992) produced by John de Graaf with the Constitution Project. This documentary, which has a study guide, focuses on the court case of Gordon Hirabayashi, who argued that Executive Order 9066 violated his Constitutional rights as an American citizen.(30 minutes) Available from CAAM,

Unfinished Business (1986) produced by Steven Okazaki, this film tells the story of three Japanese Americans, Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, who refused to be interned and were imprisoned for violating Executive Order 9066. It reveals efforts by the three men to reopen their cases and overturn their convictions. (58 minutes) Available from CAAM,

Websites and Organizations:

California Civil Liberties Public Education Program at The California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP) was created in 1999 as the result of the passage of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Act sponsored by Assemblymember Mike Honda and others. The legislation creates the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, (CCLPEP). Its purpose is to provide competitive grants for public educational activities and the development of educational materials to ensure that the events surrounding the exclusion, forced removal and incarceration of civilians and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry will be remembered and so that causes and circumstances of this and similar events may be illuminated and understood.

Japanese American Citizens League at The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is a membership organization whose mission is to secure and maintain the human and civil rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry and others victimized by injustice. Teachers may also order curriculum guides directly from the web site.

Japanese American National Museum, located in Los Angeles and the repository of a great deal of archival material on the Japanese American experience in the United States.

National Archives This on-line area is specific to the Japanese American experience during World War II. Included are many links including those to a database listing the names of most of the internees (based on 1940s records), Nisei military records, and twenty days of Congressional testimony which eventually led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Though President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, it took two more years to set up the review and distribution system for the apology letters and the reparation payment. Here are the two versions of the apology letters sent out by Presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. JAMsj Archives

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