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Civil Rights and Japanese-American Internment
Comprehensive Unit

Grade Level

Secondary - Community College


2001 (189 pages)


3 videos and 4 books $179.95

This curriculum module offers students the opportunity to consider civil rights issues in the context of the Japanese-American experience during the immigration years and during World War II, and the legacies of these experiences as they impact Japanese Americans today.

Although many state and national U.S. history standards highlight the Japanese-American internment experience, more often than not it is a topic that is treated without nuance. Because of spatial considerations, many U.S. history textbooks are forced to condense this historical episode into no more than a few pages. As a result, textbooks are forced to emphasize certain historical themes and to abandon others. The purpose of this curriculum module is to problematize notions that students have learned from textbooks; it is to teach students that history is not always as "cut and dry" as it is presented in textbooks.

Summary of Lessons and Activities

This curriculum module contains lessons for up to three weeks of instruction. The module can be utilized either as a supplement to U.S. history textbooks' coverage of Japanese-American internment or as a self-contained unit on the topic. The module does not have to be taught in its entirety. However, prerequisites for each lesson are listed. Students should be introduced to multiple perspectives on Japanese-American internment to provide nuance to a topic that is often treated simplistically. The following is a brief summary of the lessons and activities contained in this module.


Lesson One: Setting the Context

Prerequisite: Students should be familiar with the following terms: citizen (a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it); resident alien (a foreign-born resident who has not been naturalized).

Students discuss the definition of "civil rights" and consider the importance of civil rights in their lives. They also consider the U.S. Constitution as a document that describes the basic rights of U.S. citizens.

Lesson Two: The Immigration Years

Prerequisite: Homework Reading #1, The Issei and Civil Rights.

This lesson introduces students to the Japanese immigration experience to the United States. The three activities contained in this lesson involve the experiences of Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama depicted these experiences in comic strip form and published them as a book in 1931. The book, The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924, which is included with this module, is a translation of Kiyamas book.

Activity #1: A Crisis Over Japanese School Children

Students examine the segregation of Asian children in San Francisco schools in 1906. This segregation order caused a strong reaction in Japan and led to the involvement of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Activity #2: Alien Land Acts

Students examine the alien land acts passed by the state of California in 1913 and 1920. These acts were efforts to stop Japanese Americans from purchasing or leasing land for agriculture.


Activity #3: Immigration Act of 1924

Students examine the Immigration Act of 1924, which ended further Japanese immigration to the United States. This decision greatly impacted U.S.-Japan relations.

Lesson Three: Prelude to Internment

Prerequisites: Homework Reading #1, The Issei and Civil Rights, and Homework Reading #2, Prelude to Internment.

This lesson introduces the precarious position Japanese Americans were thrust into following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Reactions from popular media and the Japanese-American community are presented to students.

Activity #1: Perspectives Through Popular Media

Students examine articles and cartoons that present diverse reactions to the internment debate.

Activity #2: Japanese-American Perspectives Through Congressional Testimonies

Students examine testimonies of two Japanese Americans given before a congressional committee.

Lesson Four: The Internment Years

Prerequisites: Homework Reading #1, The Issei and Civil Rights, Homework Reading #2, Prelude to Internment, and Homework Reading #3, The Internment Years.


This lesson provides students with information on events leading up to and including the internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States. Students examine the Japanese-American internment experience through various perspectives.

Activity #1: U.S. Government Perspectives Through a Newsreel

Students analyze a newsreel, Japanese Relocation, produced by the U.S. War Relocation Authority and the Motion Pictures Division of the Department of War, and shown to the U.S. public in 1943. This newsreel is included with this module.

Activity #2: Perspectives Through Photographs

Students analyze 14 photographs (included with this module) of the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States.


Activity #3: Perspectives of a Scholar in the Camps Through His Writings

Students analyze selected writings from a Stanford University professor, Yamato Ichihashi, interned during World War II. A book, Morning Glory, Evening Shadow, containing Ichihashis writings is included with this module.

Activity #4: Perspectives of Internees Through Poetry and Art

Students analyze poetry and art developed by first-, second-, and third-generation Japanese-American poets and artists.

Activity #5: Perspectives of a Caucasian Woman in Heart Mountain Concentration Camp Through a Documentary

Students analyze the experiences of Estelle Ishigo, a Caucasian woman married to a Japanese American, through the Academy Award-winning documentary, Days of Waiting (included with this curriculum module). Mrs. Ishigo joined her husband in a concentration camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Activity #6: Perspectives Through an Autobiography

Students analyze the autobiography, American in Disguise, of Dr. Daniel Okimoto, a professor of political science at Stanford University. Dr. Okimoto was born in Santa Anita Assembly Center and interned in a concentration camp in Poston, Arizona. His book is included with this module.

Activity #7: Japanese-Latin American Perspectives Through Photographs and a Newspaper Article

Students analyze the experiences of a former Japanese Peruvian whose family was uprooted from Peru and interned in Crystal City, Texas.

Activity #8: Perspectives Through a Dramatic Reading

Students analyze the perspectives of a kibei (a Japanese American, educated in Japan) through a dramatic reading of Distant Voices,a play based on his internment diary.

Lesson Five: The Question of Loyalty

Prerequisites: Homework Reading #1, The Issei and Civil Rights, Homework Reading #2, Prelude to Internment,Homework Reading #3, The Internment Years, and Homework Reading #4, The Question of Loyalty.


This lesson introduces students to the debate surrounding a questionnaire administered to Japanese Americans in concentration camps who were 17 years of age or older; the questionnaire presumably tested their "loyalty" to the United States. Response to this questionnaire varied. The following activities reflect the varied responses to this questionnaire.

Activity #1: Perspectives of Japanese-American Soldiers Through Autobiographies and Letters

Students analyze autobiographies and letters of Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army in Europe.

Activity #2: Perspectives of the Military Intelligence Service Through Autobiography and Video

Students analyze an autobiography of a Military Intelligence Service veteran who served in the Pacific War. Uncommon Courage, a video of the Military Intelligence Service, is included with this module.


Activity #3: Perspectives of Resisters Through Editorials

Students analyze perspectives of Japanese Americans known as "draft resisters of conscience," who refused to join the military as long as they believed that their rights as citizens continued to be violated.


Activity #4: Perspectives of "No-No Boys" Through a Novel Excerpt

Students analyze a novel depicting perspectives of a Japanese American who answered "no" to specific questions on a questionnaire that tested his "loyalty" to the United States.

Lesson Six: Legacies of Internment

Prerequisites: Homework Reading #1, The Issei and Civil Rights, Homework Reading #2, Prelude to Internment,Homework Reading #3, The Internment Years, and Homework Reading #4, The Question of Loyalty.

This lesson introduces students to enduring legacies of the internment experience.


Activity #1: Perspectives on Redress and Reparations

In a debate, students argue for and against redress and reparations for Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.

Activity #2: Contemporary Perspectives on Internment

Students analyze a debate surrounding the development of a Japanese-American memorial in Washington, D.C. and propose their plan for the memorial.

Module Goals

In this curriculum module, students will:

  • learn and analyze the concept of civil rights
  • develop a basic understanding of the events leading up to and including the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II
  • become familiar with the diversity of experiences of Japanese Americans


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