Loyola Shines in America’s Shame

Sign marking the entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center near Lone Pine, California; photograph by Ansel Adams, 1943.
Library of Congress, D.C.

On November 27, 1945, Father Edward Whelan, president of Loyola University, wrote a letter to the superior provincial of California, Reverend Joseph J. King, which currently rests in the Department of Archives & Special Collections at the William Hannon Library at LMU. In the first section of the letter, Whelan addresses a lack of coadjutor brothers in the Provincial and makes the case for a fifty-six-year-old candidate who impressed Father Whelan with his faith and devotion. In the second section, he requests confirmation to ensure that the basement of the Fathers’ living quarters had been declared outside of the cloister so that a woman from the Japanese colony can perform her task as a laundress. An encloistered space, within the context of a monastery or convent, is a space that has been physically designed to separate preists or nuns from the outside world. The term also carries a metaphysical implication: a building or section considered a part of the cloister means that the building or section is a part of sacred ground. While the second section of the letter’s function is mostly in regard to the parameters of the encloistered space, its significance far exceeds this; in fact, the letter written by Father Edward Whelan is the only known record in LMU’s archive that explicitly addresses the “Japanese colony” (as referred to by Whelan himself). This was the method by which LMU provided aid for victims of Japanese internment. Once WWII ended and Japanese communities were released from internment camps, Loyola provided housing and employment for several victims. This act of social justice is one that largely opposed the social and political climate of the United States in the mid-twentieth century.

Japanese Americans being relocated into detention camps in California, 1942.
National Archives, Washington D.C.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry through Executive Order 9066. Within the literature of the executive order, President Roosevelt justified the action by claiming that “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.” This sentiment strongly resonated throughout the American population. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans became hostile toward Japanese-American citizens and immigrants alike, regardless of affiliation or allegiance. In Southern California, Japanese communities were given one week to pack their belongings and enter military relocation centers. In the six months that followed the enforcement of Executive Order 9066, over 110,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were ushered into internment camps. As a result of their displacement, many families and individuals lost their property, careers, and livelihoods. This was especially difficult for Japanese-Americans who strongly identified with American ideals. Ten poorly constructed camps, surrounded by barb-wired fences and heavily-armed military personnel with orders to shoot any internees who tried to escape, held Japanese communities for the duration of the war. Internees lived in unbearable conditions, as families were stuffed into single rooms with one dim light source and each forced to construct their own mattress out of sacks of straw. Others lived in converted horse stables.

A store owner’s response to anti-Japanese sentiment in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, Oakland, California, 1942; photograph by Dorothea Lange.
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

In 1944, the Supreme Court made two extremely important decisions regarding Japanese internment. In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme court ruled that the internment of Japanese communities was lawful in times of emergency and peril, while convicting Fred Korematsu for violating military orders. In Ex parte Endo, they unanimously decided that the U.S. Government could not detain a citizen without criminal charges. These two seemingly contradictory decisions worked together harmoniously. In short, they justified internment so long as the internee could not be proven a loyal citizen. The failure of these decisions to fully condemn Japanese internment has since been recognized as an act of bigotry and a blemish on the American justice system.

By January of 1945, all but one internment camp had shut down, and internees were allowed to re-enter the West Coast; however, those who returned were challenged with the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding their lives within American society. Among the many financial burdens, traumatic experiences, and emotional hardships which impeded their ability to rejoin society, victims of internment also returned to large-scale discrimination and hostility. During this time, Loyola opened its doors to a number of returning internees and provided much needed stability many families. This act of social justice was extremely rare considering the social and political discrimination which Japanese communities were enduring at the time. Loyola’s decision to support internment camp came long before the American government apologized or even recognized their iniquity.

Edward J. Whelan, SJ. “Letter from Edward J. Whelan to Rev. Joseph J. King, November 27, 1945” Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

In 1948, America took its first step toward reparations as President Harry Truman signed the Evacuation Claims Act, which allowed internees the ability to submit claims for any lost property because of internment. In 1976, Gerald Ford officially rescinded Executive Order 9066 and, in 1983, Fred Korematsu’s conviction was overturned because new evidence proved that the government’s legal team suppressed evidence from government intelligence agencies. The uncovered intelligence reported that Japanese Americans posed no military threat to the U.S. Finally, in 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which established a fund that paid around 1.6 billion dollars in reparations to victims of Japanese internment camps and their families. Upon signing the bill, Ronald Reagan issued a statement of apology:

The legislation that I am about to sign provides for a restitution payment to each of the 60,000 surviving Japanese-Americans of the 120,000 who were relocated or detained. Yet no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.

Ronald Reagan, August 1988
“President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Aug. 10, 1988, Washington, D.C.,” Densho Encyclopedia, the Kinoshita Collection

In his apology, Ronald Reagan also acknowledged the loyalty displayed by Japanese-Americans and rightfully blamed the injustice on racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. While the American government did not fully recognize the evil which was imposed upon the Japanese community until over four decades after Japanese internment, Loyola was able to open its doors for Japanese internment camp survivors in the same year that most internment camps were shut down.

In regard to the letter written by Father Edward Whelan, while it mostly served as a technical request on behalf of a laundress, the historical context and modern significance of the correspondence greatly exceeds this function. It situates LMU in the center of one of America’s most historically shameful moments and exemplifies the manner by which the university can interact with the larger history that surrounds it. It is also the only known record in LMU’s archive that mentions the Japanese community on campus. If LMU intends to apply this method of social activism in a modern climate, an interesting question must surely be asked: how can a private institution advocate for social justice in light of modern oppression and inequality?

Written by Nathan Rivas, History, 2020

For Further Reading

Aitken, Robert, and Marilyn Aitken. “Japanese American Internment.” Litigation 37, no. 2 (2011): 59-70. [Accessed December 4, 2019]. www.jstor.org/stable/23075502.

Executive Order 9066,” General Records of the Unites States Government, National Archives, 1942. Accessed [December 4, 2019]. https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=219.

“Facts and Case Summary – Korematsu v. U.S.” United States Courts. [Accessed December 13, 2019]. https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/facts-and-case-summary-korematsu-v-us.

Ray, Michael. “Executive Order 9066,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018. Accessed [December 4, 2019]. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Executive-Order-9066.

Reagan, Ronald. “Remarks on Signing the Bill Providing Restitution for the Wartime Internment of Japanese-American Civilians.” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library – National Archives and Records Administration. [Accessed December 4, 2019]. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/081088d.