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L.A. County rescinds support of WWII internment of Japanese Americans

The county supervisors vote unanimously to repeal the 70-year-old resolution.

June 07, 2012|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Attorney Rose Matsui Ochi, 73, breaks down addressing the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday when describing her life as a 5-year-old spent in an internment camp in Rowher, Ark. Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were held in internment camps for several years during World War II.
Attorney Rose Matsui Ochi, 73, breaks down addressing the Los Angeles County… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to rescind a 70-year-old resolution calling for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.


FOR THE RECORD:

An earlier version of this article said the supervisors voted on the issue Tuesday; the vote was Wednesday.


In January 1942, the then-county supervisors unanimously urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proceed with the internment of Japanese Americans.

"Because Japanese aliens are a potential source of danger to our security, it would be advisable for the Federal government to transfer them from Pacific Coast areas," their resolution read.

The resolution was sent to the president, California's U.S. senators, Los Angeles area members of Congress and the FBI.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wrote the motion to rescind, called the resolution an "assault on the U.S. Constitution."

Roosevelt issued Order 9066 in February 1942, and nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were held in camps for several years. Thousands of people of German and Italian descent were also interned.

Ridley-Thomas' motion addressed only the detainment of Japanese Americans because the original motion did not address other nationalities.

Supervisor Don Knabe said people often assume he is Japanese because of his last name, but he is actually of German descent. He said he recieved threatening phone calls telling him to "go home" after voting to give a contract to a Japanese company.

"It was so poignant to me," he said. "I am just so proud to be part of this action today."

Actor George Takei, who was born in Los Angeles and portrayed Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and movies, testified about seeing U.S. soldiers approach his home with drawn bayonets and taking his family to the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, where they spent several months living in a horse stall. His family was later transferred to a camp in Arkansas.

"My mother remembers it as the most degrading, humiliating experience of her life," he said.

Several other Japanese Americans testified about their families' experiences during internment, including William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive.

The normally deliberate Fujioka choked up when recalling how his grandfather was interned and how his father did not finish his education at UC Berkeley and fought in the war.

Takei said the motion would be an important reminder to future generations.

"We can face the future having extracted important lessons from our democracy," he said.

jason.song@latimes.com

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