Park City Museum exhibit about Japanese internment camps looks into ‘Righting a Wrong’
What: “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II”
When: On exhibit through Oct. 4
Where: The Park City Museum’s Tozer Gallery, 528 Main St.
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt, in reaction to the Japanese air strike on Pearl Harbor two months prior, signed executive order 9066, which sent more than 75,000 Japanese Americans who resided along the West Coast to 10 incarceration camps scattered throughout the country.
Park City residents and visitors can learn about these camps and the people who lived in them through “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II,” an exhibit that is on display at the Park City Museum’s Tozer Gallery through Oct. 4.
The exhibit, which was originally developed by the National Museum of American History, and adapted for travel by SITES (Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service), examines the camps, which housed the displaced American citizens from March 1942 to March 1946, said Courtney Titus, curator of collections and exhibits.
“It comes with many photographs, art and objects and two interactive kiosks,” she said.
One kiosk features a map of the United States that shows where all the internment camps were located.
The locations include the California/Nevada border, the Southwest, the Intermountain West and went as far east as Arkansas, according to Titus.
“You can click through and find out more about each camp — how many people lived in each camp, where the internees were from and what it was like to live in the camps,” she said. “The kiosk also includes digitized photographs and objects, and the public can learn about the people and families who owned the objects.”
The other kiosk features “In Their Own Words,” a collection of videos and oral histories of the people who lived in the camps, Titus said
“One woman’s memory told about how her father said the family had to get rid of everything Japanese, because the government would think they weren’t loyal to the United States,” Titus said. “The woman remembered watching as her father gathered and burned dolls, clothes, books, everything they had that was part of the Japanese culture because he didn’t want to be thought of as disloyal.”
The photographs are haunting, according to Titus.
“Some of these photographs are of families who have packed up their belongings and are waiting to be shipped off to the assembly centers, where they are documented, before being sent off to these camps,” she said. “There’s one photo of a woman who is looking directly at the camera. She has her arms folded and you can see all the emotion in her face.”
Although the exhibit is only 1,200 square feet, it packs in a lot of information about what happened after order 9066 went into effect.
“People had only six days to pack up only what they can carry — bedding, linen, toilet articles, extra clothing and essential personal effects,” Titus said. “They lost their homes. They lost farms. They lost pets. They lost their jobs and businesses that they had worked for years to build. They basically had to give up their lives, all because they were Japanese American.”
Although there was an internment camp called Topaz in Delta, the Park City Museum’s strongest connection to the Japanese-American relocation order is across the Wasatch County border in Keetley, where a group of Japanese Americans relocated when they were still able to move from the West Coast freely, Titus said.
“Families had three weeks to relocate themselves before the government stepped in, and the group’s leaders organized with landowners in Keetley to lease some land to create a nonprofit co-op where the families could farm the land and sell the produce,” she said.
The families lived in Keetley for the duration of the war, and did face some opposition from local residents, Titus said.
“Park City officials complained to the governor, and Heber residents weren’t happy with having these families living here, either,” she said. “But once the group began farming and producing fruits and vegetables, locals began to accept them.”
Although “Righting a Wrong” comes to Park City during a time when worldwide protests have pushed discussions of racial equality to the forefront, Titus secured the exhibit two years ago.
“It’s interesting how it came to us now,” Titus said. “We need to remember this happened. We need to remember that this happened to American citizens. We need to remember that this happened only 75 years ago, and while I’ll never know what it was like, we need to understand as a nation what we’ve done in the past and fight to make sure this doesn’t keep happening.”
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