On this dayFeb 19, 1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Orders Internment of Japanese Americans

Toyo Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio

During the early 20th century, prejudice against Japanese Americans was rampant in the U.S. After Japanese military forces bombed American forces at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii in December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II. Anti-Japanese bigotry quickly worsened, and many political leaders and media outlets called for the internment of individuals of Japanese descent residing in the Western states. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing military leaders to detain Japanese Americans in camps without due process.

Although the Justice Department and FBI insisted that people of Japanese descent did not pose a security threat, the internment process began soon after President Roosevelt signed the order. In March 1942, the U.S. military ordered all individuals of Japanese ancestry residing on the West Coast to report to concentration camps within seven days. This applied to over 120,000 people—70,000 of whom were American citizens. Interned individuals were required to leave behind their possessions, homes, and businesses. Conditions in the concentration camps were prison-like. Armed guards and barbed wire surrounded the camps and the housing areas were overcrowded and filthy.

Internment was politically popular and faced no serious opposition from elected officials or the courts. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment order and authorized the continued detention of Japanese Americans in Korematsu v. U.S.

The internment order was officially rescinded in January 1945, after the end of the war. Individuals were released from internment but received no compensation for their lost property and mistreatment. In 1988, more than four decades later, President Ronald Reagan signed an act formally apologizing for internment and authorizing a $20,000 redress payment to each living survivor.


Japanese Americans walking into internment camp

Japanese-Americans arrive at an internment camp in California in 1942. (Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection)

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