PUBLISHED: 18:31 EST, 7 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:18 EST, 7 June 201
The ruling that allowed Californian officials to place Japanese Americans in ‘degrading’ internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor was finally overturned on Wednesday.
Even though the resolution, originally passed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1942, has not been exercised for over a half-century, the move was an important symbol.
‘It’s never too late to do the right thing,’ said Mark Ridley-Thomas, the head of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who revoked the racist rule.
Following the Japanese air strike attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans – including high-ranking government officials – were fearful of Japanese Americans because they questioned their loyalties.
In response to such hysteria, officials unveiled their plan to ship all Japanese Americans into camps in an effort to contain and control them in the immediate aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Mr Ridley-Thomas explained that the ordinance ‘gave aid and comfort to a decision-making process clouded by hysteria and bigotry.’
This was the case in Los Angeles, which at the time had the largest Japanese American population in the country, totalling about 37,000 people.
At the public hearing on Wednesday, several Japanese Americans spoke out about their memories of the internment camps that they were forced into, in spite of the fact that many were American citizens at the time of the ruling.
One such survivor was Star Trek actor George Takei, who was five years old when he went to one of the camps with his family.
‘I remember seeing my mother carrying my baby sister in her arm and a duffel bag, I saw tears rolling down her cheeks,’ the actor said.
Mr Takei’s family was first taken to the Civilian Assembly Center at Santa Anita Racetrack, the place where the horse Seabiscuit won his race two years prior.
‘Our family was taken to one horse stall that still stank of horse manure, and (were) told that we were to stay there for a few months while the camps were being built.
‘My mother remembers it as the most degrading and humiliating experience of her life.’
Though he was very young at the time, he understood that there was an inherent disconnect between the way he and his family were being treated and the American Dream.
Once they were moved to an internment camp in Arkansas, he would stand for the daily pledge of allegiance, and ‘I could see the barbed wire and sentry tower from my school house window as I recited “with liberty and justice for all.”’
In total, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II.
Los Angeles News Radio WIOD reported that another speaker, Bill Wanatabe, who was born in an internment camp, extrapolated the revocation of the ruling to racial issues that remain at hand today.
He said that by finally dismissing the 70-year-old decision, it shows that ‘whether you wear a turban or a hoodie… your rights will always be respected.’