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Northeastern Illinois University was chosen as the Chicago site for the historically significant Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings that took place on September 22-23, 1981. These hearings investigated the legality of Executive Order 9066, a mandate issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II that forcibly evacuated and detained over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. Considered a threat to national security because of their ethnic background, the uprooted Japanese and Japanese-Americans were placed into internment camps and held for an average of three years.

Despite the stigma of being an enemy alien, no internee was formally charged with or convicted of espionage or sabotage.[i] One hundred and twenty thousand men, women, children, and the elderly from varying economic and educational backgrounds were forcibly removed from their homes and communities because they were deemed physically and culturally separate from American society by politicians, the media, labor unions, and others who distrusted anyone they considered different or foreign. During this time, the homes, properties, and businesses owned by Japanese Americans were hastily put up for sale and sold on short notice, normally at a great loss. While the total property loss was estimated at $1.3 billion, and net income loss at $2.7 billion,[ii] the "desultory, monotonous, and self-defeating"[iii] experience of confined camp life was unquantifiable.

The conditions of the internment camps were decidedly poor: while some of the barracks had been quickly and cheaply built, often described as "tarpaper covered barracks of simple frame construction without cooking or plumbing facilities of any kind,"[iv] others had been converted from fairgrounds, race tracks, and horse stables. These camps were surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed soldiers. To further add to the degradation, there was very little privacy; walls were thin, and it was not unusual for two or three families to reside together in a single unit. The effects of Executive Order 9066 irreparably changed the lives of all those who were evacuated from their homes into the harsh reality of camp existence.

The decision to close the camps was made by the War Relocation Authority in 1945, and in the years following the war, the Japanese Americans struggled to rebuild their lives and communities.[v] Many declined to return to the West Coast, remembering the racism and hatred they had experienced prior to their internment, and eventually resettled in different regions of the country. The socially turbulent 1960s and the rallying cries for civil rights influenced the Japanese Americans, who began asking questions about their own ethnic identities and history, referring particularly to the World War II internment experience; this knowledge of the past was a powerful motivator for them to pursue "social and political action on what they had learned."[vi] Executive Order 9066 was an extreme measure of injustice and a gross violation of the United States Constitution, and the legality of the order went unchallenged by the federal government[vii] until 1976, when it was repealed by President Gerald Ford.

The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was created in 1980 to investigate the constitutional and ethical objections of Executive Order 9066. The CWRIC executed an official evaluation of the order and its impact on the formerly interned and their families, starting the process of reparations to the Japanese Americans for the time, property, and liberty they had lost. The CWRIC reviewed the facts and circumstances surrounding Executive Order 9066 and its impact on the affected; the Committee also sought appropriate remedies. In order to fulfill that mandate, the CWRIC held twenty days of hearings in cities throughout the United States: Anchorage, Cambridge, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The CWRIC heard testimonies from more than 750 witnesses of the internment experience.[viii] The results of these national hearings led to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. This federal law granted the victims of the internment a formal government apology and financial reparations for the losses they had suffered.

This digital collection contains a scanned copy of the official transcripts of the CWRIC hearings that were held on the Northeastern Illinois University campus in 1981. The 823 page transcript has been split into smaller segments in order to facilitate access to individual testimonies. Each segment has been numbered according to the order of its appearance within the larger transcript. To read the transcript in its entirety, begin at the section titled 001- Volume 1: Front Matter and proceed in numerical order to the item titled 137- Volume 2: Closing Statements. Some pages will be duplicated if read in this manner, since testimonies may begin and end mid-page. Most segments contain individual testimonies or question and answer exchanges.

At the hearing, testifiers were interviewed in sets of three to seven individuals sitting on themed panels such as: Nisei experiences, Issei experiences, and military testimonies. After each panel of testimonies, members of the CWRIC commission had the opportunity to question testifiers. These question and answer exchanges have been labelled with the letter Q, followed by the surnames of respondents/testifiers in the order that they appear. For example, the segment titled 030- Q: Morikawa; Murao, is a question and answer session with questions directed at/answers from Jitsuo Morikawa, followed by questions answered by Shigesato Murao, both of whom testified on the panel immediately preceding the question session. In this way, the thematic panels have been grouped together as they fall in between question segments.

For any questions regarding this collection, please contact h-ahn2@neiu.edu, or g-brown9@neiu.edu.

[i] U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, 1982), 3.
[ii] U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, "Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of the Japanese (1942)," accessed March 5, 2018, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=74.
[iii] Harry Kitano, Harry Kitano, Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1969), 36.
[iv] The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, "Relocation of Japanese Americans," accessed March 5, 2018, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist10/relocbook.html.
[v] Wendy Ng, Japanese American Internment During World War II: a reference and history guide (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002), 105.
[vi] Wendy Ng, Japanese American Internment During World War II, 105.
[vii] Several attempts had been made to dispute the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 during the war. Four cases made it to the Supreme Court (Minoru Yasui, Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Mitsuye Endo), but all were eventually overturned.
[viii] Wendy Ng, Japanese American Internment During World War II, 108.

 
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