The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream for a more equal America marked another anniversary: 25 years ago the Japanese-American community celebrated a landmark victory in its own struggle for civil rights.
In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim under Executive Order 9066. The law won congressional approval after only a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.
The Japanese-American internment camps were often nothing more than makeshift barracks, with families and children cramped together behind barbed wires. Most of the internees were U.S. citizens from the West Coast who were forced to abandon or liquidate their businesses when war relocation authorities escorted them to the camps.
But decades later and inspired by the civil rights movement, the Japanese American Citizens League launched a contentious campaign for redress and in 1980, Congress responded by establishing a commission to investigate the legacy of the camps. After extensive interviews and personal testimonies from victims, the commission issued its final report, calling the incarceration a “grave injustice” motivated by “racial prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership.”
Yet African Americans who suffered 400 years of slavery, torture, lynchings, rape, injustice and disenfranchisement receives a gold medal.