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Conscience and the Constitution



The Story

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming

Long before the civil rights marches of the 1960s, another group of Americans fought for their basic rights as U.S. citizens. In 1944, 63 young men stood trial for resisting the draft at the concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Seven leaders were accused of conspiring to encourage them. The dissidents served two years in prison, and for the next 50 were written out of the popular history of Japanese America.

In December of 1941, World War II was already raging in Europe, but the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor still stunned the American public and drew the nation into the war. The attack cast unfounded suspicion on all persons of Japanese ancestry in the U.S., and came on top of a century of anti-Asian prejudice and discriminatory legislation. Despite being warned there was no military necessity, and having no evidence of planned sabotage or imminent invasion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the mass removal of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to 10 American concentration camps in seven states: California, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Arkansas. They held both the Issei, first-generation immigrants who were barred from U.S. citizenship, and their children, the Nisei, born in this country as U. S. citizens. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were U.S. citizens. Those persons of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii were not removed. For a full background, see the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund education page.

Over time the American public has come to understand that the forced expulsion and incarceration was wrong, and in 1988, the government held itself accountable, apologized and awarded token redress to recognize the Constitutional violations. CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION takes the camp story a step further, by examining two different Japanese American responses to the injustice: compliance and resistance.

In this section

The Characters
When Japanese Americans got to camp, none of them knew they were going to be prisoners or war heroes or resisters. But in a war everyone had to choose.

The story of the largest organized resistance to incarceration was written out of history . . . until now.


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Copyright 2000 Frank Abe and ITVS. All Rights Reserved. MKM