Sacramento State is leading an effort that includes Fresno State to put online a trove of World War II-era letters and documents from when 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned at 10 remote camps scattered across America.
In September, planning starts for the two-year CSU Japanese American Digitization Project for more than 10,000 original letters, journals and other documents now stored at 13 state universities, said Julie Thomas, special collections and manuscripts librarian at California State University, Sacramento.
The California State University-wide effort is funded by a $321,000 grant from the National Park Service, the largest share of which – $40,000 – is going to Sacramento State. The school bought a special archival scanner to copy fragile books and printed material, Thomas said.
Other CSU campuses participating in the digitization project include Dominguez Hills, Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Fresno, Fullerton, Northridge, San Jose, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco and Sonoma.
While more than 1,300 donated photos and pictures of artifacts including clothing, furniture and farm implements used at the camps already can be found in Sacramento State’s digital library, “the documents were the glaring gap because of the challenges of digitizing them,T” Thomas said.
“These unvarnished documents send chills up and down my spine,” she said.
Sacramento State has about 4,000 documents to be digitized, many of them telling the story of the 5,121 internees taken from Sacramento. They include Resolution No. 207, adopted by the Sacramento City Council on May 28, 1943. According to Thomas, the resolution calls the Japanese Americans “pagan” and says the council opposes their return from the camps because of their “treachery, faithlessness and untrustworthiness.”
She noted that the City Council didn’t officially repeal the resolution until May 2014.
Another document to be digitized is a statement by War Relocation Authority Director Dillon S. Myer regarding the Nov. 1943 riots at the Tule Lake Incarceration Center, where a number of Japanese Americans known as the “no-no boys” answered no to questions 27 and 28 of the loyalty questionnaire that all internees were required to complete – were they willing to serve in the military and would they swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America.
Other documents to be digitized include accounts of the daily lives of camp residents, along with poignant, tear-stained letters and diaries. Some of the letters belonged to the late teacher and civil rights activist Mary Tsuruko Tsukamoto, who was sent from the town of Florin, where her parents farmed strawberries and grapes, to the incarceration camp in Jerome, Ark., with her husband and daughter Marielle.
“I was 5,” said Marielle Tsukamoto, who donated boxes of memos, photographs, letters and diary pages. “We’re very excited Sac State got a grant to digitize the documents that tell the true story of what happened to the Japanese Americans like my family who were forced to leave their homes and farms.”
The CSU Japanese American Digitization Project will start in September and be available on a CSU-sponsored website, Thomas said. “These are the primary resources that haven’t been interpreted through the eyes of a researcher, and it gets the story out. It’s the national story of American citizens whose constitutional rights were denied them for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent.”