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The War Relocation Centers of World War II: When Fear was Stronger than Justice (curricula)

Creators: National Park Service


This lesson for upper elementary and secondary students produced by the National Park Service centers on files from the National Register of Historic Places: " Manzanar War Relocation Center" and " Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery". The lesson can be used in the study of World War II in U.S. History or human rights in a social studies unit. Links allow teachers to search for relevant curriculum standards by subject and grade level.

The stated learning objectives are:

1) To analyze the reasons why people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States at the onset of World War II were removed from their homes on the West Coast and placed in relocation centers.

2) To examine the places where relocation centers were established.

3) To describe the characteristic features of the centers.

4) To examine the reactions of some of the residents.

5) To research the local community to see if a perceived enemy was ever unfairly treated, and, if so, how that mistreatment might be acknowledged.

This lesson plan is part of Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP), a series of more than 160 lesson plans and place-based learning resources produced by the National Park Service that prompt the exploration of American history. TwHP focuses on properties in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places to bring the power of place into the classroom. Links to some TwHP resources are redirected to a new website, and may require some searching.

TwHP lesson plans (classic model) follow a six-part process:

1. Getting Started – Students view an image of a Monument to the Men of the 100th Battalion / 442nd Combat Team (Rohwer Memorial) and discuss possible answers to the inquiry question, "Who do you think this monument honors?" As the lesson doesn't address the military service of Japanese Americans, teachers might consider using a Photo 1 ( Evacuees arriving at Manzanar ), with a question about forced removal or Drawing 1( Residential Block Layouts ), with a question about these facilities and who might have lived there to pique student curiosity about the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

2. Setting the Stage – Students read historical background of Japanese immigration and settlement in the United States prior to World War II.

3. Locating the Site – Students analyze two maps: Japanese campaign to invade South Asia after Pearl Harbor, and "War Relocation Centers in the United States".

4. Determining the Facts – Students analyze excerpts from the Los Angeles Times (December 1941 – February 1942), a Civilian Exclusion Order (May 3, 1942), and a reading about life in the "relocation centers" (compiled from Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery by Kenneth Story and William D. Baker, National Historic Landmark documentation , Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991; and Confinement and Ethnicity: An overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, Publications in Anthropology 74 by Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord).

5. Visual Evidence - Students examine residential block layouts from the several different concentration camps along with seven photos from Manzanar and Rohwer Relocation Centers.

6. Putting It All Together – After studying the various primary sources and readings, students are prepared to complete an activity that will allow them to synthesize their thinking and develop their own conclusions based on evidence.

Activity 1: The Rights of Citizens – Students take the perspective of Nisei protesting their incarceration on a legal basis. They are asked to form a list of citizen's rights using the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and Supreme Court cases ( Hirabayashi , Korematsu , Yasui , Endo ) .

Activity 2: Being There – Students imagine that they are young Japanese Americans living in California in 1941. They write diary entries documenting thoughts and feelings as significant events transpire (Pearl Harbor attack, exclusion orders, removal from their homes, etc.)

Activity 3: Reactions – Students collect and study newspaper accounts and websites to reveal public opinion about the incarceration of Japanese Americans from mid-1942 to 1945, and in the 1980s prior to the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 .

Activity 4: Lest We Forget – Students research other historical events when pervasive fear caused unfair persecution of particular groups of people (e.g. American Indians during the settlement period, suspected communists during the Cold War) and compare this to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Then students look at their own community for local examples and what it takes to heal from such situations.

The lesson ends with an annotated list of supplemental resources with links to several websites and a list of books for further reading to support both teacher and student research.

The authors acknowledge the debate around terminology and decided for this lesson to use terms used by the government in 1942: "evacuee" for Japanese Americans who were removed from their homes and "relocation center" for the places where Japanese Americans were incarcerated. (For more on Densho's use of terminology, see https://densho.org/terminology/ .)

Authored by Janet Hayakawa , Densho
For More Information

For More Information

Lesson Plan: https://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/89manzanar/89manzanar.htm .

Teaching with Historic Places homepage: www.nps.gov/subjects/teachingwithhistoricplaces/index.htm.