Race Relations on the Home Front
Frameworks for America's Past
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Race relations began changing in America
during World War II

African Americans found some racial
barriers came down, at least temporarily

The great need for factory workers during the war had a generally positive effect for African Americans.  Many found they were being offered a chance to do higher skilled jobs - jobs that before the war they were not often hired for.  Discrimination and prejudice against blacks did not totally disappear, but any change for the better was welcomed.

   For both men in the photo below, this might have been the first time in their life they actually worked side by side with someone of another race.


The African American women in the photo below are working
in a large airplane factory with a team of white workers.  Before
the war, scenes like these would not have been very common.

The government encouraged all groups to work together, and to set aside old prejudices

   The government poster shown below urges Americans to put aside prejudices about other races and ethnic groups.  Instead, they should see themselves as "Americans All."  The last names shown in the poster are easily identifiable as Irish, Italian, Jewish, French, Polish, German, and African American.

   Notice the message quoted at the bottom of the poster below, and notice whose name is there. 

Japanese Americans were forced to
areas along the West Coast

   After the Japanese attack in 1941 on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans living on the West Coast found they were often treated with suspicion or even hostility. 
There was a fear that some Japanese Americans might still feel loyalty to Japan.  Another fear was that Japanese spies might easily blend into  the Japanese American neighborhoods, and then report back to Japan on ship movements at U.S. Navy bases.

   In 1942 the federal government created a plan to move more than a hundred thousand Japanese Americans living along the West Coast to relocation camps.  The map below shows the locations of the camps. 

Japanese Americans affected by the relocation order had to sell their homes, businesses,
and many of their belongings on short notice.  Keep in mind that most of these people
were American citizens.  None of them had been accused of doing anything wrong.

The photo below shows a group of Japanese Americans boarding a bus
as they traveled to one of the internment camps.

The internment camps were surrounded with barbed wire and guarded. 
Residents could not leave without special permission. 
The photo below
was taken by Toyo Miyatake, a well known photographer who was among
those forced to relocate to Manzanar, one of the camps in California.

Housing for the residents was in long wooden buildings that were
divided into family living areas.  The photos below show scenes from
1943 at Manzanar, an internment camp in California. 


Some Japanese Americans joined
the U.S. armed forces

Several thousand Japanese Americans joined the American armed forces
and served during the war with great honor.  Some had parents or
other relatives in the relocation camps, or had been in the camps
themselves before they enlisted.

Corporal Jimmie Shohara

Pvt. Margaret Fukuoka, Women's Air Corps

At the end of the war, the camps were closed

Residents at Manzanar and the other camps were allowed to leave as soon as the war
ended in 1945.  Some refused to leave, because they had nowhere to go, and had
to be forced out.  Today the location is a National Historic Site, although only the
camp cemetery, a stone monument, and a few other signs of the original camp remain.

The photo below shows one of the many children who were born at
the camp hospital at Manzanar during the war years.

Was it fair?

   The relocation of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast is considered by many people today to have been completely unfair and un-American.  Others, however, consider it an unfortunate but necessary action taken to protect American ships, sailors, and soldiers headed to battle in the Pacific. 

In 1988 Congress approved a plan to give those who lived in the camps a payment of about $20,000 each, along with an official apology from the American government. 

Should the internment camps be
called concentration camps?

   You may find teachers and books that, for various reasons, make a point of referring to these camps as "concentration camps."  Considering the hellish nature of the camps by that name set up in Germany during World War II, I think it is misleading to use the same term for the camps described above.  You will need to consider this question of word choice for yourself.

All photos except the guard tower are from the Library of Congress.
The photo showing the guard tower is by Toyo Miyatake,
a Japanese American forced to relocate to Manzanar. 
From the Toyo Miyatake Photograph Collection, Toyo Miyatake
Photographic Studio, San Gabriel, California.  Copyright Toyo
Miyatake, used by permission of Alan Miyatake.
The map is by David Burns.
Some photos have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.