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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
By Emilee Dehmer
December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy. The country of Japan attacked the American military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They flew planes and dropped bombs. Over 2,000 people were killed. And so, America went to war with Japan. This is how America officially joined World War II.
Nothing like Pearl Harbor had ever happened before. The war had been overseas, not here. Not at home. People were afraid. America thought something had to be done.
This plaque shows the military people who were from Tennessee that were at Pearl Harbor – TSM Collection, 2001.37
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942. This allowed the people in charge of the military to create special secure areas with special rules. These areas were supposed to be important to the military and needed to be protected. It turns out these areas were the entire states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona.
To keep these areas safe, certain people would not be allowed to live there. Most of the people that the military said were dangerous in these areas were Japanese Americans.
120,000. That’s how many Japanese people were living on the West Coast. They were all given ID numbers. They were told that they needed to be ready to go in less than a week. Posters were hung on street poles telling them what to do. Their whole lives needed to fit into one or two suitcases. Most families had to sell their homes and furniture. People got very little money for what they sold.
Executive Order 9066, Arkansas State University –
The American military created propaganda videos about it. In these videos, they said that the moving and paperwork was “cheerfully handled.” The Japanese “cooperated whole-heartedly” according to the videos. They said, “the loyal felt like it was a sacrifice they had to make.”
Do you think this was true? Would you want to leave your home and your life behind even though you hadn’t done anything wrong? Almost none of the Japanese who were interned were spies or enemies. The Issei (ee-say) were Japanese immigrants who moved to America for a new or better life. The Nisei (nee-say) were born in America. Many had never even been to Japan. But the government thought they could not be trusted because they were Japanese.
They were loaded onto buses and trains. Then they were taken to assembly centers until new housing was built. A few months later, the Japanese were once again loaded up and moved to the internment camps. One of these camps was in Tullahoma, Tennessee and called Camp Forrest.
The entrance to Camp Forrest in 1942, Densho.org
"Camp Forrest entrance, c. 1942.." Densho Encyclopedia. 16 Jul 2015, 16:44 UTC. 20 May 2020, 06:20 <https://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-ddr-densho-35-130-1/>.
Camp Forrest held American citizens of Japanese descent as well as German and Italian prisoners of war. They lived in huts that could hold five people. These huts were made quickly. They were not built very well. There were large gaps in the walls. When it rained, water would come into the huts, flooding the floors.
The huts that the Japanese lived in at Camp Forrest, Densho.org
"Living quarters at Camp Forrest, c. 1942.." Densho Encyclopedia. 16 Jul 2015, 16:45 UTC. 20 May 2020, 06:20 <https://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-ddr-densho-35-131-1/>.
There were no kitchens in the huts. People slept on army cots without sheets or pillowcases. They had just a used pillow and blanket. The roads were not paved. They had to walk a long way, uphill, on sharp rocks to get to the cafeteria to eat. They attended Americanization classes and practiced English.
Camp Forrest was a little different from other Japanese internment camps, though. Those at Camp Forrest might only stay for a month before being moved. Other camps were more permanent. In these camps, they tried to keep life as normal as possible. They created jobs, schools, sports, government, gardens, churches, and newspapers. But life was not normal. There was no privacy. People had to use group showers and bathrooms. They could not leave. They had no freedom.
These camps would serve as homes for Japanese Americans for years. Public Proclamation 21 in 1945 allowed them to return to their homes. However, most had lost their homes, jobs, stores, and life savings while interned. They would have to start their lives all over, again.
Propaganda – The spreading of misleading or false information and ideas of a particular point of view.
Interned – To force to stay in a place, mainly during war.
Immigrants – A person who moves from one country to another country to live.
Assembly Centers – Places where the Japanese people would go after being removed from their homes, but before being placed in an internment camp. These places were mostly large open areas like racetracks, fairgrounds or former worker camps.
Descent – A person’s ancestry. Tracing back your family from your parents, to grandparents, to great-grandparents and so on.
Prisoner of War – A person, usually a soldier, captured in war.
Americanization – Teaching people, like immigrants, English, U.S. history, government, and American culture.
How long were Japanese people interned for?
Why did America intern Japanese immigrants and people of Japanese descent?
What do you think the hardest part of being held in an internment camp would be?
Do you think the Japanese people were treated fairly? Why or why not?
Watch the propaganda video created by the United States Government about Japanese Internment Camps.
Emilee Dehmer is an educator at the Tennessee State Museum.
5.22: Describe Tennessee’s contributions during World War I and World War II
Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/
Furuya, Suikei. “An Internment Odyssey = Haisho Tenten” Internet Archive. 2017. https://archive.org/details/internmentodysse00furu/page/88/mode/2up
“Overview – Manzanar, National Historic Site.” Virtual Museum Exhibit. National Park Service.
Ray, Michael. "Executive Order 9066." Encyclopedia Britannica, June 19, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Executive-Order-9066.