The following is the text of the Manzanar Committee’s written testimony presented to the House Judiciary Committee on February 17, 2021, in support of House Resolution 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.
February 12, 2021
Congressman Jerry Nadler
2132 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Nadler:
The Manzanar Committee, the oldest Japanese American redress organization founded and led by survivors of America’s concentration camps, enthusiastically supports HR 40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.
In our fifty-two-year history, the Manzanar Committee has sought to educate our nation about the injustices of Executive Order 9066 and the forced removal of our families. Since 1969, we have organized the annual Pilgrimage to the former site of the War Relocation Authority Manzanar Relocation Center, where the Manzanar National Historic Site is now located.
Our government committed a grave injustice when it demanded and carried out the forced removal of our families. The sole and appropriate remedy to restore justice was for our government to redress the wrongs committed against our community. Central to our work has been the recognition that our government and legal system codified and validated the blatantly unconstitutional character of Executive Order 9066, up to and including the Supreme Court of the United States. Likewise, central to our work has been the demand that America recognize and come to terms with what can happen to a people when racism and unconstitutional policies guide our nation’s laws and psyche.
The Manzanar Committee believes that while the system of white supremacy and systematic oppression of African Americans predates the founding of our Republic, the role of our government in historically maintaining and perpetuating systemic racism at the federal, state, and local levels must be fully recognized. In the case of our community, it was inconceivable to truly redress the injustices without first acknowledging the actions of our government. Redressing the wrongs of Executive Order 9066 came about with open and honest recognition of its injustices, followed by an apology from both Congress and President. Redressing the harm inflicted was inconceivable without a full and true reckoning of the social, psychological, and economic impact of Executive Order 9066 upon our people. Reparations in the form of monetary compensation were necessary to right the wrongs and restore justice.
Our campaign to hold the federal government accountable for the incarceration of our community took a decisive step forward with the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). This Commission is precedent for what is being proposed by H.R. 40 for African American reparations. A commission of this sort is essential to formally acknowledge the role of federal and state governments in supporting the system of slavery and resulting systemic discrimination against all people of African ancestry in our country today.
We believe the CWRIC hearings, held in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and six other major cities played an essential role in educating our nation by providing an official venue for our community to be heard. The CWRIC was critical to documenting the full scope and impact of the forced removal and unconstitutional incarceration of our families. The hearings provided the most concentrated and vivid documentation of the injustices and devastating toll that the forced removal took upon our families and community.
The CWRIC hearings openly exposed that the impact of Executive Order 9066 was not limited only to the handful of years our families spent behind barbed wire. What became painfully evident was that the forced removal had profound and lasting effects on our families and community. The loss of jobs, businesses, and educational opportunities are what Sue Kunitomi Embrey, the Manzanar Committee’s co-founder, in 1972, called “the lost years.” These obvious and very direct injuries were easiest to quantify. Less visible but every bit as destructive were the negative impacts of social stigma and racist laws imposed upon our people and families. The intergenerational trauma that persists to this day, while less quantifiable in a material fashion, is now recognized as one of the most pernicious and detrimental effects of being forcibly removed and forced to live behind barbed wire, deprived of the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.
The passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which resulted in an apology and modest financial reparations, was only possible with the solidarity from many including the Congressional Black Caucus and especially Representatives Ron Dellums, Mervyn Dymally, and John Conyers.
It is our belief that the proposed legislation (HR 40) states an excellent case for creating a Commission to study and develop reparation proposals to remedy the negative effects of the institution of slavery and the present day discrimination against African Americans.
This is precisely why the Manzanar Committee fully supports the passage of H.R. 40.
Bruce Embrey, Co-Chair, Manzanar Committee
Jenny Chomori, Co-Chair, Manzanar Committee
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