Archives in Context: Teachable Topics from the CSU Japanese American Digitization Project

Japanese American Cases


The following provides guidance for teaching U.S. History with a focus on what have come to be known as the “Japanese American Cases.” A special focus is placed on how Japanese Americans turned to the judiciary branch of the U.S. government during World War II (WWII) to resist the mass removal from the west coast and call attention to how their civil rights were being violated. The majority of the people of Japanese ancestry who were sent to the WWII War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps by the military were U.S. citizens. They were never charged with a crime, received no legal counsel, nor were they offered even the rudiments of due process under the U.S. Constitution. What legal recourse do American citizens have when their civil rights are being threatened, especially during times of war or strife? 

Grade Level: 

10 through 16


Make copies (paper or digital access) of background reading assignment, timeline, and activity sheets in the appendices. For an overview of Japanese American history, the California State University Japanese American History Digitization Project (CSUJAD) online exhibit is a good starting point at:

Time Requirement: 

One to two class periods, with a reading assignment the night before.

Learning Objectives: 

Students will explore and be able to better understand the social and political issues, government interventions, and complexity of life experienced by people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. The story of the Japanese American court cases will be used to explore issues related to civil rights violations during times of war or strife and the legal recourse used to right a wrong. Students will search for and analyze archival documents to shed light on the issues and controversies that arose. 

Lesson Activities & Guiding Questions:

Assign students the background reading assignment (Appendix A) before teaching the lesson in the classroom and have them examine/use the timeline (Appendix B) during the activities. The activities below are provided in a logical order intended to build understanding through steps of completion, but teachers may also select among them to meet classroom needs. Keep the overriding lesson question in mind throughout the activities— What legal recourse do American citizens have when their civil rights are being threatened, especially during times of war or strife? Students should read and analyze the primary sources when provided and answer the guiding questions. It is optional, but could be helpful, for them to use the 6 Cs of Primary Source Analysis worksheet (Appendix D).

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