Classroom Resources

Educators who want to use RECKONING in their classrooms have several options available to them. The central story has been designed as a solo experience for a user to experience individually. Supplemental readings and viewings are organized by chapter, and teachers can choose which ones they would like students to explore in more detail.

Chapter 1: Unearthing the past

This chapter chronicles the beginnings of the Japanese American redress movement, from the introduction of the idea for redress in 1970 to initial proposals for redress from the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Redress Committee in the late-’70s. It attributes several factors to growing community interest in redress, including the first books about the incarceration, early pilgrimages to the camps, and the civil rights and Asian American movements.

Readings and viewings:

President Gerald Ford’s Proclamation 4417 - Titled “An American Promise,” this proclamation issued on February 19, 1976 formally rescinded Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Discussion questions:

  • Do you think President Ford would have issued this proclamation without the lobbying efforts of Japanese Americans? Why or why not?
  • What does the proclamation offer to Japanese Americans? Do you think there is anything missing from it?
  • Ford calls upon the American people to “resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated,” referring to the forced removal and incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry with no due process or constitutional protection. Do you believe that promise has been upheld?

Redress! An American Promise - The JACL published this booklet in 1977, making it the first wide-scale effort to educate the Japanese American community about its incarceration and get buy-in for reparations.

Discussion questions:

  • The booklet details anti-Japanese policies spanning the early 1900s through the 1950s. Why do you think the authors included this history in making a case for redress?
  • Did anything in this booklet surprise you? Do you think any of the content might have surprised people reading it in the 1970s?
  • Why do you think the JACL invested time and resources into producing a booklet like this?

Chapter 2: Three movements form

This chapter explains the political strategy behind the JACL’s decision to push for legislation to create a government-led commission to study Japanese American incarceration. It also introduces National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) and National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), two other organizations that emerged with different approaches to redress and reparations.

Readings and viewings:

NCJAR appeal newsletter - This appeal letter from the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) details why the organization decided to file a class action lawsuit instead of supporting the JACL’s commission approach.

Discussion questions:

  • Why did NCJAR take issue with the JACL’s commission approach to redress?
  • What details stand out to you about the letter? Did anything about it surprise you or change your understanding of Japanese American incarceration?
  • Who do you think NCJAR was targeting with this appeal?

Blank form from the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations - This form, created around 1980, was used to collect signatures in support of NCRR’s redress efforts.

Discussion questions:

  • How is NCRR’s definition of “Redress/Reparations” similar to that of the JACL and NCJAR? How is it different?
  • Do you agree with NCRR’s definition of “Redress/Reparations?” Is there anything important you think it leaves out?
  • Of the five points outlined, which stands out as most important to you?

Chapter 3: The power of testimony

This chapter details the Chicago hearings for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) held at Northeastern Illinois University in September of 1981. It discusses the process of preparing more than 100 witnesses from cities across the Midwest, and the eventual outcome of the hearings and research conducted for the CWRIC— a damning 1983 report called “Personal Justice Denied.”

Readings and viewings:

Suggested Guidelines for Oral Testimony to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians - These guidelines, created by the Japanese American Citizens League’s (JACL) National Committee for Redress, were distributed to people writing oral testimonies to deliver at the CWRIC hearings.

Discussion questions:

  • How do you think these rules, suggestions, and restrictions on content and tone shaped the oral testimonies delivered at the hearings?
  • The guidelines instruct potential witnesses to “keep in mind the make-up of the Commissioners.” What do you think they meant by that?
  • What considerations do you think the authors of these guidelines had in mind when writing them?

CWRIC testimony of Jitsuo Morikawa (video starts at 7:48 / written transcript) - This 1981 testimony from Reverend Jitsuo Morikawa of Ann Arbor, Michigan reflects on the nature of the redress process, including the challenges CWRIC witnesses faced in expressing the pain and loss of incarceration in five minute time slots.

Discussion questions:

  • At the beginning of his testimony, Jitsuo says the redress hearing process is happening too late. Whose voices aren’t heard in the testimonies, and what’s lost as a result?
  • During his testimony, Jitsuo says, “To further accentuate the injustice, we, the victims, are expected to bear the moral burden to suggest the nature of redress, removing the burden from those responsible for the injustice.” What mental and emotional toll do you think the process of obtaining redress had on the Japanese American community?

NCJAR flyer: We regret the spectacle but honor the victims (starts on page 5) - In this flyer, members of NCJAR and other allies encourage Chicago CWRIC hearing attendees to stand at the beginning of each testimony in protest ⁠— they believed there was significant evidence of an injustice and found it unnecessary to ask victims to relive their trauma.

Discussion questions:

  • The flyer states that “it is not for the victims to testify.” What do you think the authors meant by that?
  • According to the flyer, who should be the real focus of the CWRIC’s investigation?
  • Do you agree with the message in this flyer? Why or why not?

This chapter recounts the organizing and lobbying efforts of Chicago Japanese Americans to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted $20,000 to surviving detainees, a formal presidential apology, and the establishment of a trust fund to support public education projects about the incarceration. It also discusses other pivotal legal efforts related to Japanese American incarceration history, including the coram nobis cases and NCJAR’s class action lawsuit.

Civil Liberties Act of 1988 - This primary source is a copy of the United States federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.

Discussion questions:

  • The Civil Liberties Act limited redress payments to living survivors of the incarceration camps. Why do you think the government took this strategy?
  • One result of the Civil Liberties Act was the establishment of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (Sec. 104). Why do you think this fund was an important part of redress?
  • Of the seven stated purposes of the Civil Liberties Act, which do you think was the most important? Why?

Apology letter from President Bill Clinton - This is a 1993 letter from President Bill Clinton apologizing for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Discussion questions:

  • Note the apology letter’s use of the words “interned,” “evacuated,” and “relocated” to describe what that government did to Japanese Americans. Do you think this language accurately describes what happened? Why or why not?
  • What’s significant about this letter coming from the president of the United States?
  • What effects do you think the government apology had on the Japanese American community?

Chapter 5: Reckoning with racial injustice today

This chapter details how the Japanese American community spoke up when hate crimes against Muslims in America rose following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It also describes the ways Chicago Japanese Americans today are making connections between their incarceration history and other histories of racial injustice, including the legacy of slavery and discrimination against African Americans.

Japanese Americans See Parallels Between New Immigration Policies And WWII Incarceration - In this short video documentary from July of 2018, Chicago Japanese Americans organize a pan-Asian coalition for a “Families Belong Together” march protesting migrant family separation and indefinite detention.

Discussion questions:

  • The organizers of the Asian American contingent said the Japanese American community should have a strong presence at the march because of the particular message they have to bear. What message are they referring to?
  • In the video, Lisa Doi talks about a “long history of anti-Asian immigration policies” that allows her to see connections between the past and present. What parallels do you see between what happened to Japanese Americans and what happened to migrant families at the border?
  • Why do you think it was important to have Jean Mishima, a direct camp survivor, speak at the rally? What do you think motivated her to participate in the march?

Japanese Americans Hang Paper Cranes At Cook County Jail To Protest Mass Incarceration And Police Brutality - In this photo essay from June of 2020, Chicago Japanese American demonstrators reflect on how the mass incarceration of Black and brown people connects to their own history of incarceration during World War II.

Discussion questions:

  • What parallels did the demonstration organizers draw between what’s happening at Cook County Jail and what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II?
  • How do you think the redress movement informs the activism of today’s Japanese American community in Chicago?
  • Which participant quotes stand out to you, and why?

Testimony of Kathy Masaoka at H.R. 40 hearing (video, written transcript) - On February 17, 2021, Kathy Masaoka presented testimony before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She spoke on behalf of NCRR and Nikkei Progressives in support of reparations legislation for the Black community.

Discussion questions:

  • According to Masaoka, what value did the CWRIC hearings of 1981 have for the Japanese American community?
  • What examples does Masaoka give to emphasize the “depth and breadth of the impact of slavery or Jim Crow?”
  • The testimony calls H.R. 40 a “necessary step towards justice” and a “first step towards healing.” What’s the difference between justice and healing, and why are both important?