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Japanese American Internment

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which gave the military broad powers to ban any citizen from a coastal area stretching from Washington state to California and extending inland into southern Arizona. For the next four years, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry—77,000 of them American citizens—were removed from this area and incarcerated indefinitely without criminal charges or trial. Forty-six years and eight presidents later, on August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law. This law acknowledged the injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II. 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.

These resources in this unit highlight the story of internment and redress through two collections at HSP - the Iwata Family Papers and the papers of Philadelphia activist Sumiko Kobayashi, that represent the experience of internees who were relocated, and those who led in the movement for redress.


20th century

Ethnic history

Government and civics

World War II

Big Ideas

Historical Context

US History

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?


  • Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.

  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.

  • Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in the United States. Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.


  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place.

  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.

  • Contrast how a historically important issue in the United States was resolved and compare what techniques and decisions may be applied today.

Background Material for Teacher

End of Unit Assessment

Based on their knowledge of Japanese American Internment, students should be split into groups to make presentations on different perspectives on internment:

  • Japanese internees

  • The family of internees

  • Japanese American soldier fighting in the American army during WWII

  • President Roosevelt’s military advisors

  • American citizen who had never had contact with a person of Japanese descent

Each presentation must include must include information from at least two primary sources, one image, and the integration of at least one primary source document. Each presentation must also address how their group’s perspective of Japanese American internment would have lead to conflict and cooperation in with the redress movement.


Plans in this Unit

The Iwata Internment Experience: What Is A Personal Essential?

Japanese-American Internment and Redress: Petition and Coalition Building

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards

CC.8.5.11-12.G.    CC.8.5.11-12.F

About the Author

Activities and all sources in this unit were written and gathered by Hsiao-Ning Tu. Updated to a unit by Danielle J. Gross, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.



The Japanese-American Experience

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