Japanese-American Internment and Redress: Petition and Coalition Building

On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (also known as Public Law 100-383) into law. This law acknowledged the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II. On behalf of the American people, the Act apologized for the grave violation of the constitutional right of due process; made restitution of $20,000 to each surviving former internee; provided a public educational fund to inform the public about the internment; and discouraged such violations of civil liberties in the future. The half-century long journey from internment to reparations represents a case study in both the violation of civil liberties by the federal government and the right to petition that government for a redress of grievances.

This unit pays tribute to a long-time Pennsylvania resident Ms. Sumiko Kobayashi who played a significant role in the movement for redress bill in the Philadelphia region. Kobayashi was born in West Palm Beach, Florida. In 1939, her family moved to San Leandro, California where she graduated from San Leandro High School two years later. In the subsequent year, the family was evacuated to Topaz, Utah. She left the camp in 1943 to attend college in Madison, New Jersey. After the family’s release, they settled in the Philadelphia area in 1947. Kobayashi has been an active member of the Philadelphia Chapter of Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) since 1968. She made a significant difference in the local redress movement through her committed social, political, and cultural activism not only within her own Japanese-American community, but through her connections with a variety of organizations in the region. The decades-long, numerous personal correspondence, meeting minutes, speech notes, budget plans, and newspaper clippings in her papers are a living testament to a determined spirit to work for the good and just of one’s kin as well as one’s neighbors. Although the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 brought legislative closure for the insult and injury, for many Japanese Americans the personal anguish and painful memories remain.

Essential Questions

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?

Objectives

  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the political tools utilized by the redress movement by evaluating correspondence between Japanese American Citizens League members and government officials.
  • Students will be able to identify the contributions of the JACL to the redress movement by mapping historical coalitions between JACL and analyzing the effectiveness of redress movements.
  • Students will develop critical-thinking skills and draw connections to historical events by synthesizing the information to make inferences about redress and reparations.
  • Students will be able to examine American political relations by evaluating the conflict and cooperation among political and social interest groups and politicians.

Other Materials

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. The previous lesson in the unit provides background on the personal experiences of a family during Japanese Internment. This lesson focuses on political responses to internment. Background information should focus on the political context on internment. After background on Japanese American internment during World War II, ask students to review, in partners or groups, the various correspondences between Sumiko Kobayashi, Grayce Uyehara, and others. Each group/pair will focus on one letter and consider the following questions:
    • Who is writing the letter?
    • What is their relationship to the JACL?
    • How do these letters contribute to the strategy that the JACL outlined for pursuing redress?
      Individuals were asked to mobilize friends, church congregations and letter writing played an important role, with visits, phone calls, campaign contributions, and speaking engagements used to persuade others to support redress legislation.
  2. Hand out two copies of the Coalition Building Worksheet to each student. Using interactive direct instruction and class discussion, Outline the different organizations, individuals, and issues that are represented throughout the correspondence.
    The follow questions could be asked during a class discussion: Who is partnering with whom?  How is a coalition being built between Japanese Americans and others? Who are they seeking to influence? JACL partnered with other organizations, notably the ACLU and the ADL, to leverage their advocacy along with Japanese American legislators, politicians, and other interest groups.
  3. Students should be instructed to fill out one Coalition Building Worksheet on the JACL and the ACLU and the other worksheet on the JACL and the ADL.
  4. Jigsaw Activity: Split the students into several groups. In their groups, students should read Public Law 100-383 (Congress Apologies for the Relocation of Japanese-Americans in WWII). Within their groups, students should share their reactions to the law.
  5. Split the previous groups into new groups, so that there is one member of each old group in each new group. Japanese Americans were paid reparations as part of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.  Other groups such as African Americans seek monetary reparations as compensation for historical injustices. Students will be asked to discuss the following points: What are the arguments for and against reparations?  Should African Americans be compensated for their deprivation and suffering during the history of slavery? Why or why not?
  6. Students will complete a short in class essay (no more than one paragraph, but more than a couple sentences) answering one of the following prompt:
    • Do you think that reparations and Public Law 100-383 were necessary to bring a close to this traumatic event for Japanese Americans?
    • Analyze the efforts and effectiveness of the JACL and other organizations in working for redress. How did individuals and organizations advocate? How successful were they?

Vocabulary

Redress: remedy or set right an unfair situation
Civil Liberties: civil rights and freedoms that give individual specific rights
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL):  the nation's oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization with over 24,000 members and 112 chapters nationwide.  The JACL was founded in 1929 to address issues of discrimination targeted specifically at persons of Japanese ancestry residing in the United States.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): is an American national organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Founded in 1920, this nonpartisan organization consists of two separate entities: the ACLU Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU Foundation is a non-profit organization that focuses on litigation and communication efforts, whereas the American Civil Liberties Union focuses on legislative lobbying and does not have non-profit status. The ACLU has often found itself defending the civil rights of unpopular groups or individuals who most need the protection of the Bill of Rights
Anti-Defamation League (ADL): is an American interest group whose stated aim is to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, by appeals to reason and conscience or, if necessary, the law. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against, and ridicule of, any sects or body of citizens