This exhibit, created by the students of English 88 in the spring term of 2012, showcases the historical documents from World War II available in the Sally Lucas Jean Collection in the Southern Historical Collection of UNC’s Wilson Library.

Japanese Americans in California waiting to be taken away to camps

The Japanese American Incarceration, 1942-45

During World War II, the United States government incarcerated approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans in hastily built camps.  Some community leaders were arrested immediately after Pearl Harbor; the bulk of the Japanese Americans were given little notice to vacate or sell their homes and businesses and settle their affairs, taking two bags of possessions into an imprisonment of unknown duration.  About 2/3 of the Japanese Americans were U.S. citizens by right of birth, and the rest were ineligible for citizenship under the laws of the time, but regardless of citizenship status, Japanese Americans living within 100 miles of the West Coast were deemed untrustworthy and dangerous.  While the military held hearings on some arrested cases, the bulk of these men, women, and children were held without trial or evidence.


Even at the time, many protestors viewed this as a dangerous violation of civil and human rights, paving the way for legalized racism, but the wartime climate of fear and suspicion drowned out these voices.  In recent years, Congressional, presidential, and judicial actions have been taken to apologize for the wrongs visited on these Americans.  The public debate on these issues has continued into our era with the discussion of racial profiling, detention at Guantanamo Bay, and the rights of citizens and aliens in wartime.

Incarcerees at Poston filling straw ticks for bedding. This was better than what was available at some camps, particularly the early assembly camps, where many incarcerees had to sleep in hastily converted horse stalls.

The Incarceration Camps

Eleven camps were administered by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), a civilian agency of the Department of the Interior; others were administered by the military and the Department of Justice.  Barbed wire surrounded poorly built and overcrowded barracks and communal facilities.  Items in the exhibit describe the conditions at Poston camp, ranging from the communal mess halls and latrines to the schools and hospitals.  Over time, the incarcerees improved the camps; the WRA was responsible for setting up basic structures such as schools and hospitals.

Studying Poston‘s Contribution

This exhibit focuses on the health care at Poston, officially known as the Colorado River Relocation Center.  Sally Lucas Jean worked as a Health Education Consultant at the Poston camp for a year and a half, and her papers provide valuable insight into the public health issues and hazards of an overcrowded camp, as well as the daily life and experience of incarcerees and government workers there.

Professor Heidi Kim


Student authors on this site:

Seth Beane

Tammy Chen

Eric Dean

Ariel Esperancilla

David Gorelick

Ellen Gould

Laura Hanson

Savannah Jacaruso

Corinne Jurney

Nicole Mogensen

Austin Powell

Meredith Richard

Helen Robertson

Mary Willoughby Romm

Sarah Spaltenstein

William Tuminski

Olivia Van Horn

Jazzmine Willis

Seth Wynands

Lulu Zhong

Site designed and curated by Professor Heidi Kim.