The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was created by Congress in the summer of 1980 to examine the circumstances surrounding the World War II displacement and imprisonment of Japanese Americans and permanent resident aliens of Japanese and Aleut ancestry. The panel of commissioners was ordered by Congress to compile its findings in a report and recommend “appropriate remedies” for any wrongdoings.

On January 30, 1981, a steering committee made up of four community groups met to coordinate efforts for the upcoming Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings in Los Angeles. The diverse groups were the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Japanese American Bar Association (JABA), and State Bar Subcommittee on Redress/Reparations. They recognized that each group had different priorities and strengths, but that coordination was needed to identify and prepare witnesses for the Los Angeles hearings. Community fund-raising, education and outreach were also concerns

When the CWRIC executive director, Paul T. Bannai, announced the tentative schedule of the hearings in June 1981, there was skepticism by many in the Japanese American community as to the intent of the Commission and whether the commissioners would be sensitive to the needs of the community.

A July 8th NCRR letter to the Commission aired concerns from the community. These included that none of the hearings had evening hours for working people, a government building would be used instead of community site for testimony, and the lack of Japanese translation for the entire hearings. In addition, NCRR was concerned about the Commission's attempt to limit both number of testifiers and the amount of time allotted for testimonies. Concerns were also raised about the lack of additional hearings in San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, New York, New England, and rural California. They also urged the Commission to support redress and reparations for the sake of the remaining Issei and others whose lives were tragically impacted by the camps.

The first CWRIC hearing dates were July 14, 15 and 16 in the Senate Caucus Room, Washington D.C. Regional hearings during August and September 1981 were scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Anchorage, Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands (St. Paul), and Chicago.

In a community survey published in July 1981 by The Rafu Shimpo, 95 percent of 3,749 people responding said that they supported redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II and 89 percent said they would favor direct monetary payments to individuals. The survey results were presented during the CWRIC hearings in Washington D.C.

NCRR was able to win concessions from the Commission including testimonies in Japanese by Issei, simultaneous translation for Issei, and having one evening hearing at the Little Tokyo Towers. June Kizu, testified for NCRR at the Los Angeles hearings. She presented the five NCRR principles which included education of the public, overturning the legal basis for a mass evacuation, inclusion of the Aleutian/ Pribilof Islanders and Peruvians for reparations, establishment of a community fund, and most importantly, at least $25,000 of direct monetary compensation to individuals.

Kizu said, “Please keep in mind that real property loss estimates have been grossly underestimated, that emotional and sociological damages, three years of people's lives, and the violations of Constitutional rights are tremendous losses.” She ended the NCRR testimony with, “We strongly urge you to challenge the Congress to have the moral courage to correct this blot in our American history.”

For many Japanese Americans, this was the first time they had spoken openly about their camp experiences. For many witnesses, testifying was a catharsis. Some witnesses spoke for dead parents and others for children who were too young to comprehend what was happening to them at the time. Dr. Mary Oda shared how her younger sister suffered a nervous breakdown and three other family members died three years after the evacuation from asthma or cancer caused by camp conditions.

After a request from acting Chairman William M. Marutani to speed things along, NCRR member Jim Matsuoka banged his fist on the table and said he would not be silenced or hurried. Matsuoka shared how he got “this old repainted toy as a gift from the outside” during one Manzanar Christmas and that the man who presented it to him was “clearly embarrassed” because the toy was broken. When the man walked away, “I threw it in the trash can. To me, that toy symbolizes how we as a minority are treated – second-class, all the promises are broken.”

The audience jeered when Senator S.I. Hayakawa said demands for monetary redress make “my flesh crawl with shame and embarrassment.” They also jeered after Lillian Baker and her associate tried to wrestle a paper from James Kawaminami, president of the 100th/442nd Veterans Association of Southern California. The audience cheered as the women were evicted.

The powerful and emotional testimonies strengthened the resolve of the community to push for reparations. In the end, after countless testimonies from Japanese Americans throughout the country, the CWRIC published the report Personal Justice Denied which stated that the causes of the evacuation were “ . . . race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” It recommended $20,000 in individual reparations and noted that “ . . . nations that forget or ignore injustices are more likely to repeat them.”

Back to top