Sunday, September 23, 2007

Roundup Remembered

The photographer in action

In 1942,

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), prominent American photographer and photojournalist, was hired by the War Relocation Authority of the U.S. government to document the evacuation and relocation of Pacific coast Japanese Americans.

Executive Order 9066, authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt, sent 120,000 civilians of Japanese ancestry to various detention and concentration camps with armed guards and barbed wire.

Just one of the camps

This was an immediate and drastic response to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Strong sentiments of prejudice and dehumanization of "Japs" in the general population were fueled by anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II.
These hateful sentiments were extended indiscriminately toward the enemy forces along the South Pacific battle lines as well as, unjustifiably, toward the peaceful and loyal citizenry of Japanese Americans at home in the U.S.

Proclamation from up high

Mother and child are tagged

When justice fails

Up and down the West Coast, Japanese Americans, from doctors to shopkeepers, to farmers right down to school children and babies were summoned. The majority did not even speak Japanese, only English. All pledged their loyalty to the United States, their homeland, but to no avail:

Entire communities of Japanese American families were rounded up and herded into horse stalls at the Tanforan Assembly Center in Northern California. There they were inventoried and tagged and held for up to six months at what had been a racetrack before being transported to more permanent camps in the deserts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and other remote locations, such as North Dakota and Arkansas. One of the first things the prisoners did was form baseball leagues to pass the time while in captivity.

Dorothea Lange's photographs vividly denounce this cruel, hysterical and racist policy. Her lens captured the quiet dignity of the forgotten men, women and children even as their lives were tossed into turmoil and deprivation.

Queuing up to be processed

Over 90% of Dorothea Lange's documentary photos were suppressed and never published until much later.

Proud Grandfather in captivity

Although she did not live to know it, 23 years after her death her photographs would help remind a nation of its tragic wrongdoings and might have contributed, in some small measure, to the passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a United States federal law that granted reparations to Japanese-Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

Beginning in 1990, the government paid reparations to surviving internees.

[Read an interview with Dorothea Lange]

[See also: Discrimination]

[Related Abu Ghraib]


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