August 10, 2008, marked the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (CLA). This historic legislation authorized the government’s apology and monetary restitution to each Japanese American who had been forcibly removed from the West Coast, incarcerated in America’s World War II concentration camps and was alive on the day of the signing of the redress bill. The CLA also required that each recipient must have been a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien during the war. The presidential apology and reparations were ultimately provided to over 82,220 survivors.

The 20th anniversary is acknowledged by many Japanese American organizations for its significance not only to the JA community, but for its relevance to today’s concerns about the violations of civil and constitutional rights in the name of national security, the excesses of presidential authority, and the targeting of ethnic and religious minorities after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

NCRR’s Role in the Campaign for Redress/Reparations
The significance of the Japanese American community’s campaign to seek long-awaited justice from the United States government and NCRR’s role in this struggle are the main motivations for this website and archives. NCRR was very clear from the beginning of the redress/reparations campaign about our focus at a time when others, for understandable reasons, said, “don’t make waves,” “an apology is enough,” or “redress will never happen.” At NCRR’s founding conference in 1980, the demand for monetary restitution was its primary Principle of Unity for the new organization.

The Strength of Grassroots Activism
NCRR, a community-based, all-volunteer organization, organized in 1980 with the specific mission of seeking monetary reparations, an apology, and an education fund from the U.S. government. Our organization involved regular people: truck drivers, teachers, homemakers, office workers and service employees to wage this campaign. Those who suffered and endured because of the government’s actions, their children and friends, and other justice-minded friends would fight this fight.

Every person who wrote a letter, signed a petition, sent a mail-a-gram, donated even a few dollars, attended a meeting or Day of Remembrance program was a participant in the over-eight -year campaign for redress and reparations. The grassroots campaign encouraged each person to get involved and valued each person’s effort as an important contribution to the struggle.

When President Reagan signed the redress bill in 1988, the Nikkei legislators and important Congressional friends stood around him. Senators Spark Matsunaga, Daniel Inouye, and Congressional members Norman Mineta, Robert Matsui, Patricia Saiki were there along with Barney Frank who was one of redress’ staunchest supporters. The importance of our Nikkei legislators and key friends was critical to the passage of the Act. Of tremendous importance, also, was the work of community members and the support of friends in the Latino, African American, and other communities. The earliest steps in the campaign focused on small meetings in homes, churches, and community organizations to talk about the camp experience and the importance of seeking redress. After almost 40 years, many Nikkei were reluctant to discuss this topic. Others, however, were grateful for this fledgling campaign.

Claiming our History
Grassroots organizing for redress led to unexpected, tremendous benefits. During the months and years of community outreach, Issei and Nisei shared sad and amazing stories of their family’s evacuation and camp experiences. For decades, they had said so little about camp, but now, with encouragement, many were willing to talk and share. Light was shed on the darkest period of Japanese American history, and in the process, a healing began.

Their stories revealed little known consequences of the forced evacuation and imprisonment. We learned about families who had been separated by the government during the incarceration. With the government’s coercion, some families chose to go to war-torn Japan in order to reunite. Some families were never reunited. We found out about the Japanese from Latin America who were abducted by the U.S. government to be used as prisoners of war in a hostage exchange program with Japan.

Through the community’s redress campaign many more important parts of our history were revealed. We more fully realized the extent of the devastating effects of the government’s actions. Individuals and families were left with deep feelings of shame and tremendous loss. And, our community suffered painful schisms that remain even today. NCRR strongly demanded, “Redress Now! Reparations Now!”

The Community’s Victory
The redress victory was the result of numerous factors. The Japanese American community came together to present a united front to push for redress. Differences of opinion in the community organizations would not deter the greater cause. Time was an important factor in the coming together. We knew that with each passing month hundreds of Nisei were dying. The community knew that time was of the essence.

The victory, more than 40 years after the end of WWII, was spurred by the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, and the inspiration of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Cesar Chavez.

Critical Factors in the Redress Campaign:

The 1981 Federal Commission Hearings
In 1981, the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) conducted public hearings in 10 cities across the country. NCRR pushed for evening hearings in Los Angeles to accommodate working people and simultaneous translation for the Japanese speakers. NCRR also encouraged Nisei to testify, helped them to prepare and rehearse their testimony, and assisted with transportation. NCRR also recruited Visual Communications to videotape the 26 hours of Los Angeles hearings. The tapes were helpful in educating the broader community about the impact and losses caused by the incarceration. The commission tapes continue to be a valuable resource.

Critical to the passage of the CLA was the final report and conclusions of the CWRIC. The report stated that the causes of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans were wartime hysteria, race prejudice and the failure of political leadership. The commission proposed that monetary reparations be paid to Japanese American former internees.

The Community’s United Front
NCRR worked with the key community organizations, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the Washington Redress Committee (WRC), and the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) in the early 1980’s to ensure a united front. Although NCJAR chose to pursue a class action lawsuit, their efforts did not impede the legislative approach pursued by NCRR, JACL, and WRC. NCRR conducted dozens of community meetings to garner support for the redress campaign throughout the early 1980’s.

The community sought the support of numerous local and national organizations including the National Lutheran Synod, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), city councils, human relations organizations, and the support of many other ethnic communities. We could not have achieved this victory alone.

Early Support from Congressman Dymally
NCRR worked closely with Congressman Mervyn Dymally (D-CA) to draft redress legislation. The Dymally redress bill was submitted to Congress in late 1982, and it served to introduce the topic to legislators and keep the momentum of the Commission hearings strong. Mr. Dymally continued to be a staunch supporter of redress and assisted NCRR on its several lobbying trips to Washington D.C. during the 1980’s.

In 1987 NCRR spearheaded a historic delegation of over 120 Japanese Americans of all ages to lobby Congressional members to support the redress bill. The community members volunteered their time and money to advocate for the legislation. Their visits to Congressional members put a face on the issue and provided persuasive information of personal losses and suffering.

NCRR is also grateful to Congressmen Robert Matsui and Norman Mineta for their support of the community’s grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts. Their willingness to speak at DOR programs, share their personal stories in Congress and provide leadership were important to the redress campaign.

Annual Day of Remembrance Programs
Since 1981 NCRR has organized an annual Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program. The DOR programs kept the community informed and involved with the redress campaign throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Those who attended signed petitions and letters to Congress to urge passage of the bill, as well as to urge President Reagan to sign the legislation, and to protest the delay of funding for the redress.

The passage of the Civil Liberties Act through the treacherous gauntlet of congressional committees was, by any measure, a tremendous victory for the community, a relatively small ethnic minority group.

Working with the ORA
The process of identifying and delivering the apology and redress check to the survivors and eligible heirs was no small feat. The over ten year process by the Department of Justice’s Office of Redress Administration (ORA) was carefully monitored, massaged and even challenged by NCRR. Once again we worked with the JACL and others to ensure that everyone who had been impacted by the wartime removal and incarceration would receive reparations.

NCRR established a close working relationship with the ORA and requested regular community meetings with ORA representatives. NCRR was grateful for the early leadership of ORA Director Bob Bratt and his staff.

The Fight Continued for Those Denied Redress
NCRR is proud of its important role in the continued redress campaign for the thousands of Japanese Americans who received letters from the ORA stating that they were ineligible for redress. In the early 1990’s, after the first redress checks were sent to Japanese Americans, NCRR received dozens of calls from JA’s who were denied redress. The denial cases included approximately ten categories. Two of the groups were the children of JA’s who had moved to the interior states in March, 1942 to avoid the mass evacuation and the children of the internees who went to Japan rather than stay in the camps and face an uncertain future. Other categories of denial cases included the JA railroad and mine workers who were fired after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, residents of Hawaii who were moved or incarcerated based on their ethnicity, and residents of Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona who suffered from harsh restrictions because of their Japanese ancestry.

NCRR participated in numerous lobbying delegations to Washington D.C. during the 1990’s to advocate for the broadest interpretation of the CLA and its regulations. We assisted individuals in appealing their denial status. Administrative remedies were ultimately reached by the ORA in several categories. Two of the groups to receive redress were the railroad and mine workers and the children of those who returned to Japan during the war. And, after the final denial of their redress appeals, victory was finally attained for the majority of the children of the early evacuees through successful lawsuits.

With the expertise and volunteerism of many community lawyers, NCRR helped individuals to pursue lawsuits when the Department of Justice offered no remedy.

Redress Denied
The community’s victory, however, came at a high cost. Excluded from the benefits provided by the CLA were all former inmates who died before the Aug. 10, 1988 signing date. The oldest Issei , Nisei and their heirs would not receive the deserved reparations. Also excluded were the Japanese Latin Americans who were forced from their homes in Peru and other Latin American countries and forced into America’s concentration camps. Through the redress campaign, their tragic stories became known. Over 1600 Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin American redress applicants were found ineligible to receive redress.

The struggle of JLA’s to win equitable redress continues today and deserves everyone’s support to bring this shameful chapter of American history to a just conclusion.

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