Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mayor La Guardia, Japanese Internment and World War II: 70 Years Later

Manzanar Relocation Center, by Dorothea Lange
(National Archives)
Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Seventy years ago on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident Japanese aliens on the West Coast of the United States into camps (along with much smaller numbers of Germans and Italians). As Japanese-Americans began to be released in 1944, a few hundred were re-settled in New York City. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia vehemently opposed their arrival using language tinged with, for him, an uncharacteristic racism, which was nonetheless common throughout the U.S. during World War II.
The La Guardia and Wagner Archives holds the fascinating correspondence between Mayor La Guardia, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and La Guardia confidante C.C. Burlingham on this subject. The Archives has also developed a webpage about Japanese internee Mitusye Endo's struggle for freedom and a lesson on Japanese Internment. If you would like to learn more about La Guardia and/or Japanese Internment, please contact me or Tara Jean Hickman thickman@lagcc.cuny.edu .
            In his correspondence with Interior Secretary Ickes on April 11 and 21, 1944, La Guardia deemed Japanese-Americans a security threat, despite their having been vetted by the U.S. Government. He asked "Is there one single solitary United States official who will vouch for each and every one of them." He ominously wrote that "If anything happens, the responsibility is not with the city. The responsibility is with the Federal Government." He proposed that all evacuees return to the states of their original residence and it was "unfair . . . to force them upon New York City."
            Ickes berated La Guardia's narrow-minded views in a personal letter and in a statement published in The New York Times on April 28, where he accused him of "playing the discordant theme of racial discrimination." When C.C. Burlingham, his patrician adviser, learned of La Guardia's position, he responded with dismay, you are "in bad company and the sooner you clear yourself the better," and since "penitence is out of your line, I suggest subtlety." He proposed that La Guardia should adjust his position to state that he saw "no reason, military or legal, for interning loyal citizens or transferring them from their homes."
            If La Guardia responded to Burlingham, the Archives has no record of it, but his response to the arrival of a few hundred Japanese-Americans citizens to New York City is indicative of the racism and demonization of the enemy that invariably occurs during wartime.

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