A | More | Perfect | Union --  Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution
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Curator Statement

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Classroom Activity 2

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Curator Statement

In 1942, almost 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens, were removed from their West Coast homes and placed in camps for up to four years. Most were denied their constitutional rights.

photo of the team
Part of the Behind the Scenes team, October 2, 1987
(Standing L-R) Selma Thomas, Video Producer; Donna Westmoreland, Graphics Coordinator; Stephen Stewart, Funds Manager; Kirby Rosenbluth, Exhibit Assistant; Sarah Reenders, Administrative Support. (Seated) Edward C. Ezell, Project Director and Co-curator; Jennifer Locke, Research Assistant

In 1985, I was hired just out of college to be the research assistant for "A More Perfect Union," the exhibition on the Japanese American internment on which this Web site is based. I had never heard of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from World War II, nor learned much in my studies about the Japanese American internment. In the two years I worked on this exhibit I traveled to California many times, and once to Hawaii, making many new friends, and talking to many veterans of the 100th/442nd and former internees. We were breaking new ground in collecting objects for this exhibit. Much of what we found was housed in peoples' attics, garages, and barns. People came forward with so much material that it was hard to pick and choose what to take for our exhibit. But it was exciting to see that people kept these things after so many years, and after such an experience.

The original exhibit, mounted as part of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1987, was the first time that the National Museum had ever done an exhibit about this event. Many more exhibits have been mounted by museums and libraries across the country since its' opening in 1987, but no other has had such a lasting national impact.

detail photo
Looking over objects in Los Angeles, CA, 1986
Harold Langley, Co-curator; Tom Crouch, Curator; Selma Thomas, Video Producer; Jennifer Locke, Research Assistant.

This new online exhibit is in no way an exhaustive study into this subject; it was never intended to be. It is different than the exhibit that still stands at the National Museum of American History, in part because that exhibit is now 14 years old, and in part because we needed to translate it into a new form. We tried very hard to keep true to the love and enthusiasm we had for producing the original exhibit, and I hope we succeeded.

In the aftermath of the attacks to New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, I can only reflect and wonder about America's response to those events. In order to understand ourselves as a nation, particularly in this time of national crisis, we must look to the past, to our nation's history. Having been in the middle of editing and working on this new web site, I wonder if indeed, America and Americans understand the fragile nature of the constitution. As we go to war, this time with no borders and against no individual nation, we have to look to history to help us understand that individual rights and civil liberties will once again be tested. The nation and its people must remain vigilant about not repeating mistakes of the past.

Jennifer Locke Jones
October 2001


 
Smithsonian - National Museum of American History - Behring Center