Images of Internment: The Incarceration Of Japanese Americans During World War II debuts Sunday marking the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9006, which led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including 80,000 American citizens.
The exhibit kicks off with a conversation Sunday at 3 p.m. featuring actor George Takei, who lived in an internment camp as a child and starred in "Allegiance," a musical about the internment and Kermit Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt's great-great-grandson and author of "Allegiance," a novel about the internment. The event is sold out.
"We wanted to look at both President Roosevelt's successes and failures," Paul Sparrow, executive director of the museum, said. "Historians are united in their perspective that this was unconstitutional. American citizens were incarcerated for doing nothing wrong. They were never charged nor convicted of a crime."
Sparrow said the internment of the Japanese is a stain on Roosevelt's legacy.
"Why did one of our great champions fall victim to a mob mentality," Sparrow said. "It's an important story to remember. It's most common that we violate our civil liberties during war. Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War."
In 2013, the library decided to do a complete redo of its permanent exhibits. Visitors can now learn some of the darker aspects of Roosevelt's legacy, from the internment of the Japanese to his refusal to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust and his affair with Lucy Rutherford.
"It's much easier to confront these issues when the president is no longer alive," Sparrow said. "We wanted to take a look at these controversies objectively."
Sparrow said that Roosevelt understood that what he was doing was wrong, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was outspoken against the camps.
"He was under incredible pressure," Sparrow said. "Americans were scared, Pearl Harbor had shocked everyone. There was a lot of hysteria going on. The fate of the world hung in the balance."
A wide range of historians have reviewed the exhibit to ensure historical accuracy, Sparrow said. Sparrow said he is glad someone like Takei is coming to shine a spotlight on Japanese internment.
"He has enormous credibility," Sparrow said. "He understands what the library is doing with this exhibit. It's vitally important to own up to what happened here."
Sparrow said hopes people learn about how political pressure can lead politicians to make bad decisions.
The FDR Presidential Library is at 4079 Albany Post Road in Hyde Park. For more information, visit www.fdrlibrary.org.
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