Twenty minutes ago, the Japanese American organizers behind the #StopRago campaign (which I wrote about earlier today), announced via their Facebook page that Rago auction house had decided to remove the lots containing approximately 450 artifacts from Japanese American incarceration. This move came after nearly a week of heated backlash from the Japanese American community who object to Friday’s scheduled auction of familial heirlooms and artifacts donated under the promise of creating an exhibit on Japanese American experiences in World War II concentration camps. Friday’s planned sale amounted to profiteering on the pain of Japanese American camp survivors.
The #StopRago group announced that these efforts were victorious. Moments ago, a Rago company spokesman said at the auction house’s offices in Lambertville, New Jersey that the artifacts will no longer be sold this Friday. Instead, actor and outspoken advocate for the preservation of Japanese American history George Takei will serve as an intermediary between the Rago auction house and various Japanese American museums, advocacy groups and families interested in the items.
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.