Over 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of them American citizens, were incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. The government’s War Relocation Authority hired photographers to document the process in a way that masked this massively cruel act
Among the photographers was Dorothea Lange, who famously photographed migrant agriculture workers for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. But Lange’s photos didn’t fit with the narrative that the U.S. government was pushing so they locked the photos away for 30 years.
Most of Lange’s candid photos of the removal process weren’t approved for publication by the War Relocation Authority and were “impounded” for the duration of the war. They weren’t seen widely until 1972, when her former assistant pulled them from the National Archives for a museum exhibit about the incarceration of Japanese Americans, called “Executive Order 9066.”
The photos became part of a redress movement for Japanese Americans in the 1970s and ’80s, which ultimately resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a bill that approved reparations for survivors of the camps.