Executive Order 9066 (exhibition)

Landmark photographic exhibition on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans curated by Richard and Maisie Conrat for the California Historical Society in 1972. The first exhibition on this topic to tour nationally—including such venues as the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York—it likely introduced many Americans to this story and was part of a resurgence of interest in the topic both inside and outside the Japanese American community in the 1970s.

Origins and Content

Richard Conrat, a documentary photographer and a teacher of photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, had been an assistant to renowned photographer Dorothea Lange in the 1960s. In that capacity, he became aware of the pictures she took of the Japanese American forced removal and incarceration for the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and became curious about other such photographs. After a cursory investigation revealed an enormous number of photos, estimated at 25,000, he and his wife Maisie applied for and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1968–69 to investigate the photos in the National Archives and elsewhere. The Oakland Museum, under director J. S. Holliday, considered doing an exhibition based on the photographs, but Holliday left the museum, and the project withered. But when Holliday subsequently became the executive director of the California Historical Society (CHS), the Conrats' project moved there. At the same time as the Executive Order 9066 project, the CHS produced a second exhibition centered on the Japanese American exclusion and incarceration, this one focused on the art produced in the camps, titled Months of Waiting, 1942–1945 . [1]

Executive Order 9066 eventually came to include sixty-five photographs, most of which document the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, augmented with newspaper clippings and quotations from newspapers and books. Of the photographs, twenty-seven were by Lange and nineteen were by other WRA photographers, including Clem Albers and Charles Mace . There were also a handful of images by Toyo Miyatake and Ansel Adams , with Miyatake's the only images taken by a Japanese American. [2] Since Lange's WRA photographs had been actively suppressed during the war and buried in the National Archives subsequently, the exhibition marked the first time any of her Japanese American images were seen by a large audience. [3]

The CHS also published a 120-page catalog that included reproductions of the images and text panels from the exhibition, along with a preface by the Conrats, an introduction by Edison Uno , a historical essay by Donald Pike and Roger Olmsted, and an epilogue by Tom C. Clark , a retired Supreme Court Justice who had worked under General John DeWitt at the time of the exclusion.

Tour and Reaction

Since the exhibition consisted solely of photo and text panels, the CHS produced two copies of it, with the idea that each could tour different parts of the country simultaneously. Thus, the exhibition opened at two venues in the San Francisco Bay Area on January 5, 1972— the M. H. DeYoung Museum in San Francisco and the University Art Gallery in Berkeley. [4] After its premiere engagements ended in mid-February, Executive Order 9066 toured widely over the next several years, with one copy mostly staying in the West, while the other toured venues in the East and Midwest. Of particular note were engagements at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. in June and July of 1972, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in September and October of 1972, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in July through September of 1973; all prestigious venues in American cultural capitals that brought a great deal of attention to the wartime incarceration topic. [5] The exhibition was also highlighted in the September 1972 NBC documentary, Guilty by Reason of Race . Other venues in 1972–73 included the San Jose Civic Art Gallery, the Pasadena Art Museum, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the San Jose Library, the Phoenix Art Museum, the San Diego City Administration Building, the E. B. Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, and the Colorado State Museum in Denver. [6] The exhibition later traveled to Hawai'i and was even displayed in Japan in 1975. [7] Some venues screened the 1965 CBS documentary The Nisei: The Pride and the Shame with the exhibition. [8]

The exhibition was well publicized and seemed to have been well reviewed. Reviewing the Whitney installation, A. D. Coleman in the New York Times wrote that "The Conrats have done their work exceedingly well," adding that the exhibition "confronts us with ourselves a mere three decades ago. It is not a pretty picture, but it is a major document, all the more painful for its gentleness and grace." Reviewing the Phoenix Art Museum showing, Maggie Wilson called it "an exhibit of photo-journalism at its best." [9] At the beginning of the show's runs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, both the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times ran long feature stories—the former reprinted Uno's catalog essay, while the latter highlighted former inmates and museum docents Tomoo Ogita and Sue Embrey —though neither reviewed the show. [10]

Many Nisei volunteered as docents during the show's run in West Coast venues, seemingly recognizing the landmark nature of the exhibition. [11] But it had critics in the community as well. In his poem "Appendix to Executive Order ," Ron Tanaka lamented the fact that Japanese Americans were portrayed solely as victims, with scenes of resistance or of contemporary efforts to reclaim the history missing. [12] This sentiment is echoed by Cynthia N. Togami and Arthur A. Hansen in their review, writing that "... the exhibit should have moved beyond the mere victimization of Japanese Americans." [13]

The exhibition also generated a fair share of criticism from those who did not agree that the exclusion and incarceration was wrong. Historian Alice Yang Murray noted that it "was subjected to harsh attacks throughout its national tour." [14] In the most publicized incident, the Los Angeles NBC affiliate reported receiving "55 nasty hate calls in ten minutes" after a news segment in which Robert Abernathy interviewed Richard Conrat on April 4, 1972. In a "Viewpoint" segment the following day, Abernathy reported that "Caller after caller saw no difference between Japanese soldiers in the Western Pacific and Japanese Americans here. Their general feeling was that internment was far better than the Japanese Americans deserved, then or now.... Sometimes, even when you are forewarned, you can't help but gag at the cesspools of prejudice that bubble up from time to time into sickening view." [15]

Revival and Legacy

Twenty years after its original opening, Executive Order 9066 was brought back as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of Executive Order 9066 in Los Angeles in February of 1992 by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center in collaboration with the Wight Art Gallery, the Japanese American National Museum , and the Japanese History Room of the Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California. This coalition also republished the original catalog, adding new prefaces by its UCLA Asian American Studies Center Director Don T. Nakanishi, and by Michael McCone, the executive director of the California Historical Society. Recognizing the significance of the exhibition, McCone wrote that it "was a milestone in the process of all Americans coming to grips with their history," while Nakanishi noted that it "coincided with the early stages of a most remarkable and unprecedented resurrection of the internment experience by Japanese Americans." [16]

Though preceded by a handful of regional exhibitions, Executive Order 9066 and Months of Waiting were the first national exhibitions that told the Japanese American incarceration story and likely served as an introduction to the topic for many people. [17] Along with camp pilgrimages , political activism around the repeal of Title II , and a flood of new books, these exhibitions were part of the changing attitudes to the Japanese American wartime experience in the early 1970s that led to the Redress Movement of the 1980s. [18]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Alinder, Jasmine. Moving Images: Photography and the Japanese American Incarceration . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Conrat, Maisie, and Richard Conrat. Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans . Introduction by Edison Uno. Epilogue by Tom C. Clark. San Francisco: California Historical Society. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1972. Prefaces by Michael McCone and Don T. Nakanishi. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992.

Overmyer, Deborah A., and Geoffrey J. Giglierano. "American Museums and Executive Order 9066: Who Has Told the Story, The Story That Was Told" in Alien Justice: Wartime Internment in Australia and North America . Edited by Kay Saunders and Roger Daniels. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000. 234–54.

Togami, Cynthia N., and Arthur A. Hansen. "Review of Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans and Manzanar: A Selection of Photographs by Ansel Adams ." The Public Historian 15.1 (Winter 1993): 114–17.


  1. Maisie & Richard Conrat, Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1972); "Backlash Seen in Editorials Evoked by 'Exec. Order 9066' Book-Photo Display," Pacific Citizen , Mar. 3, 1972, 6.
  2. Though contemporaneous accounts of the exhibition state that it included sixty-five photographs, the published catalog includes just sixty-two unique images. (One is used twice, once in cropped form.) Not having access to the original exhibition, it is unclear if it really included only sixty-two images or if there were a couple of images in the exhibition that were for some reason not included in the catalog. The numbers by each photographer above are based on the catalog.
  3. Linda Gordon, "Dorothea Lange Photographs the Japanese American Internment," in Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment , edited by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 5–6. This volume reproduces about 100 of Lange's Japanese Americans photographs.
  4. Pacific Citizen , Jan. 21, 1972, 1.
  5. Margot Kernan, "Executive Order 9066 Exhibit Opens at Corcoran," Washington Post , reprinted in Pacific Citizen , July 7, 1972, 1; A. D. Coleman, "'E.O 9066' Pains Critic with its Gentleness, Grace," New York Times , reprinted in Pacific Citizen , Oct. 27, 1972, 2; Pacific Citizen , July 20, 1973, 1.
  6. Pacific Citizen , Feb. 25, 1972, 6; Sept. 1, 1972; Sept. 8, 1972, 2; Dec. 1, 1972, 4; and May 11, 1973, 1.
  7. Pacific Citizen , Jan. 2–9, 1976, 5; March 19, 1976, 5.
  8. Pacific Citizen , April 7, 1972, 6.
  9. A. D. Coleman, "'E.O 9066' Pains Critic"; Maggie Wilson, "'E.O. 9066' Show Unveils Other Museum Material," Arizona Republic , reprinted in Pacific Citizen , Dec. 1, 1972, 4.
  10. San Francisco Chronicle This World , Jan. 9, 1972, cover, 30–31; Betty Liddick, "Remembering Pearl Harbor—Differently." Los Angeles Times , IV-1, 5.
  11. See for instance, Pacific Citizen , Jan. 28, 1972, 3 and Liddick, "Remembering Pearl Harbor."
  12. Cited in Elena Tajima Creef, Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 68.
  13. Cynthia N. Togami, and Arthur A. Hansen, "Review of Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans and Manzanar: A Selection of Photographs by Ansel Adams ," The Public Historian 15.1 (Winter 1993), 116.
  14. Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 385.
  15. Pacific Citizen , Apr. 21, 1972, 6. This incident is also referred to in Don Nakanishi's preface to the 1992 edition of the exhibition catalog.
  16. Maisie Conrat and Richard Conrat Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans , (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992), 9, 11.
  17. The most notable earlier exhibition was Pride and Shame , organized by Seattle's Museum of History and Industry and the local Japanese American Citizens League chapter in 1970.
  18. In addition to the recent works by Alinder, Creef, and Yang already cited, Deborah A. Overmyer and Geoffrey J. Giglierano's "American Museums and Executive Order 9066: Who Has Told the Story, The Story That Was Told," in Alien Justice: Wartime Internment in Australia and North America , edited by Kay Saunders and Roger Daniels (Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000), 239–40 and Thy Phu's Picturing Model Citizens: Civility in Asian American Visual Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), 75, 79 also note the exhibition's significance.

Last updated Jan. 5, 2024, 1:43 a.m..