Events, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections

Former Detainee to Recall Japanese American Incarceration During World War II, Apr. 24

The Japanese American Incarceration at Poston

Tuesday, Apr. 24, 2012
Wilson Special Collections Library
5:30 p.m. Pleasants Family Assembly Room
Free and open to the public
Information: Liza Terll, Friends of the Library, (919) 548-1203

When Professor Heidi Kim began researching Japanese American incarcerations on the west coast during World War II, she did not expect to find a UNC connection.

Then her research in the Wilson Special Collections Library turned up the papers of Sally Lucas Jean, who worked at the Poston camp in Arizona.

On Apr. 24, a free public program in Wilson Library will feature:

  • Joanne Iritani, who spent three years in Poston beginning at age twelve;
  • Eric L. Muller, professor of law at UNC, who will discuss the legal and scholarly issues of incarceration; and
  • Members of  Kim’s first-year English class, who will exhibit documents from the collection and describe their own research about Jean and Poston.

For program information, contact Liza Terll, Friends of the Library, liza_terll@unc.edu, (919) 548-1203.

“I want these students to be historians, not simply read history,” said Kim. “Twenty first-years just spent a semester reconstructing the perspective and experience of Jean, a worker in the camps. Now they will hear first-hand from another amazing woman who lived through Poston on very different terms.”

The Poston camp, known officially as the Colorado River Relocation Center, opened in 1942 on the Colorado Indian Reservation. President Franklin Roosevelt had permitted the imprisonment of more than 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry on Feb. 19 of that year. At its peak, Poston held as many as 17,000 people, making it one of the largest camps.

Iritani was incarcerated at Poston from May 1942 until Aug. 1945. She writes and speaks frequently about the camps. She and her husband, the late Frank Iritani, wrote the book Ten Visits: Accounts of Visits to All the Japanese American Relocation Centers to chronicle the remains of each camp. Her granddaughter Marisa Iritani is a biology and Asian studies major at UNC (class of 2014).

Jean, a health educator and public health professional, worked at Poston in 1942 and 1943. She also held positions as director of the Child Health Organization of American, supervisor of health education for the U.S. Indian Service, and with other domestic and international health organizations. Jean died in 1971 at age 93.

Muller is the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics and the Faculty Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at UNC. His most recent book, Colors of Confinement: Rare Color Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II is forthcoming from UNC Press.

Kim has taught at UNC since 2010 with a focus on American literature and Asian American studies. She is preparing an edited memoir and correspondence of a Hawaiian family incarcerated during WWII.

The program is sponsored by the First Year Seminar program, the Institute for the Arts & Humanities, and the Friends of the Library.

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