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Executive Order 9066
February 19, 1942

Japanese Americans being removed from Los Angeles to Santa Anita Assembly Center, 1942. Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps, courtesy of Library of Congress.

At the beginning of 1942, some 37,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived in Los Angeles County. This population included a thriving fishing community on Terminal Island with about 25,000 residents. The nation was at war with Japan and ethnic Japanese, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were looked upon with deep suspicion. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering all persons of Japanese ancestry to be "evacuated" from the West Coast. Those unwilling or unable to relocate outside the West Coast were to be restricted to "relocation" camps until they could either find jobs and homes in communities outside the West Coast or until the war was concluded. The reason given was to protect the militarily vulnerable Pacific Coast against sabotage and espionage by agents and sympathizers of Japan. This view was supported by California Governor Culbert Olsen, State Attorney General Earl Warren and Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron. There was no evidence, however, that California's ethnic Japanese population ever posed any such threat. To be sure, government officials acknowledged that most ethnic Japanese were loyal Americans, yet there was a need to put the restrictions in place to guard against those who were not. The government made attempts to prevent relocated persons from suffering severe economic losses by having to quickly dispose of homes and businesses, but such losses often occurred anyway.

Japanese American women and children being removed from Los Angeles Harbor, 1942. Photo by U.S. War Relocation Authority, courtesy of Library of Congress.

One of the bright spots in this dark event, however, according to Los Angeles A to Z by Leonard and Dale Pitt, was the Dayton Heights neighborhood near L.A. City College and Vermont Avenue. White and black neighbors in this neighborhood protected and maintained the property of their relocated ethnic Japanese neighbors until the property could be reclaimed at the end of the war.

Fishing boats formerly owned by Japanese Americans tied up in San Pedro, 1942. Photo by U.S. War Relocation Authority, courtesy of Library of Congress.

In 1988, Congress passed legislation to award formal payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee—60,000 in all.