Retired US Army General Wesley Clark — who ran unsuccessfully to represent the Democratic party in the 2004 presidential primaries — said in an interview on Friday to MSNBC that he believes it is time for America to once more incarcerate its citizens in concentration camps (see JACL’s “Power of Words” Handbook), as the American government once did during World War II.
Last month, I blogged about a large collection of artifacts from Japanese American incarceration that was originally collected by folk art historian Allen Eaton, and which was being auctioned to the highest bidder against the wishes of the Japanese American community by Rago Auction House. After a week of vocal outrage and a coordinated social media campaign, the community was able to halt the planned public sale of the Eaton Collection following a threatened lawsuit by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and the intervention of actor and activist George Takei. Instead, the Collection’s current owner agreed to work with a group of Japanese American community leaders, including Takei, to identify an appropriate recipient organization to acquire the entire Eaton Collection.
This just in: I just received a series of tweets saying that at their annual gala, the Japanese American National Museum (which has a close working relationship with Takei, one of its co-founders) announced that they will be the recipient organization to receive the entire Eaton Collection of incarceration artifacts originally intended for public sale through Rago Auction House. Takei was scheduled to receive JANM’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement at their gala tonight for his work.
Last week, New Jersey-based Rago Arts and Auction House came under fire with news that they had been consigned by an anonymous seller living in Connecticut to sell a valuable collection of nearly 450 Japanese American incarceration artifacts — most of them commissioned black-and-white photographs and hand-made artpieces created by incarcerees. Many of the pieces were donated to famed art historian Allen H. Eaton with the understanding that he would use them in a public exhibition to draw attention to the injustices of the camp, but not for sale or profit. When Eaton died, the collection was passed down to his daughter before making its way to the family of the anonymous seller who planned to auction the collection piecemeal through Rago on Friday.
As news of the planned sale — which was scheduled for auction on Friday, April 17 — made its way to the public, many within the Japanese American community were understandably outraged. Many within the community (including several who found pictures of relatives, and family heirlooms, within the Eaton collection) spoke out vocally against the sale, which amounted to profiteering off the pain of survivors of American concentration camps. A Facebook-based social media campaign (“Japanese American History: NOT For Sale“) sprung up with the goal of halting Friday’s auction, and to propose an alternative solution to the public sale that would honour the original intent of the collection.
Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation — the group responsible for maintaining the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of the Heart Mountain incarceration Camp where many of the items in the Eaton collection were obtained — gathered pledges to make a cash offer of $50,000 to Rago Auction House. Bafflingly, that offer was turned down.
It seemed that Friday’s auction would go on as planned until on Wednesday, HMWF notified Rago of their intention to file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the sale, and actor George Takei also independently intervened. By Wednesday evening, Rago announced that the auction of the Eaton collection had been cancelled, and that a resolution would instead be negotiated with representatives of the Japanese American community (including Mr. Takei).
Throughout the unfolding of this story, one thing has remained unknown: the identity of the Eaton Collection’s consigner. Friday evening, the New York Times revealed that the seller is John Ryan, a sales and marketing employee for a credit card company, who lives in Connecticut.
During the height of World War II, over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans were forcibly incarcerated in American concentration camps (see JACL’s “Power of Words” handbook) on the basis of their race alone. Removed to some of the harshest and most isolated regions of the continental United States and Hawaii, incarcerees — most of them United States citizens — were housed in makeshift huts behind barbed wire fences under the constant watch of armed guards.
The incarceration was politically popular, particularly among the West Coast’s White farmers who stood to gain (through short sale, or outright theft) the land and property Japanese American were forced to leave behind following the federal government’s removal order. However, at the time, few non-Japanese American citizens were also aware of the deplorable conditions of the camps that Japanese Americans were forced to endure over the course of this incarceration.
History documents the occasional artist or advocate who ventured to the camps, and — horrified by what they found — tried to bring to light the story of this American injustice.