Civil Rights

Scene of the Crime: Marker Unveiled Where Japanese-Americans Were Taken to Camps

It was 70 years later, to the day, that more than 100 Venetians gathered in support of a handful of Japanese-American survivors of the Manzanar Concentration Camp. In 1942, they had been taken away from the very spot of the April 25 gathering and bused to the central California camp.

They were rounded up, not for any crime, but because of their race. In all, more than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-American citizens from throughout the western U.S. were put behind bars and barbed wire in concentration camps for the duration of World War II. No such mass incarceration happened to other adversaries, such as, Italian or German-Americans.

The action against the Japanese-Americans was without due process and was in disregard for their civil liberties. In 1988, Congress and the President apologized for the government’s treatment, saying its actions were driven by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Still, no apology or token payment can rub out the stain on this country’s honor, nor restore years out of the lives of hard working farmers, shop keepers, workers and fishermen.

And neither can the imposing monument that was dedicated at this gathering. But it can warn future generations that this happened on U.S. soil and can happen again if we are not vigilant.

The threat to civil liberties following the attack on the World Trade Center reminded local residents of the mass incarceration of the Japanese-Americans during another time when war hysteria took precedence over people’s rights.

“After September 11, 2001, members of Venice Peace and Freedom Party became increasingly alarmed by the creation of an atmosphere by the popular media and by our politicians…encouraging the residents of this country to accept serious restrictions in our civil liberties,” Dr. Alice Stek told the assembly.

In April 2003, the Beachhead published a photo of the hundreds of Japanese gathered at Venice and Lincoln Blvds, with only a small bag to take on their years’ long forced absence.

It was the first of a series of photos and articles about the unlawful incarceration of our fellow Venetians.

In 2009, a student at Venice High School, Scott Pine, picked up a Beachhead with an article about the need for a memorial marker and showed it to her teacher, Phyllis Hayashibara, who shared it with her class.

The students decided to write letters to Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and the Beachhead supporting the creation of a marker.

One thing led to another and soon the travail of  our neighbors will be known to everyone who sees the marker. As one speaker put it, “this monument will be a beacon that lights the way on the road to real dignity and respect for the rights of all of our human family.”   –Jim Smith