Japanese American Citizens League

The Japanese American Citizens League (日系アメリカ人市民同盟 Nikkei Amerikajin Shimin Dōmei) was formed in 1929 out of existing Nisei organizations in California and Washington, and spread to become the largest and most well-known Japanese American organization in the United States. In its early years, it lobbied for legislation that expanded the citizenship rights of Japanese Americans, and local chapters organized meetings to encourage Nisei to become more politically active. During and leading up to World War II, the JACL was criticized for its decision not to use its political influence to fight the incarceration of Japanese Americans, aiding U.S. intelligence agencies in identifying "disloyal" Issei, and taking a hardline stance against draft resisters in camp. These issues remain a source of division within the Japanese American community and the organization itself.

After the war, the JACL returned its primary focus to civil rights legislation, lobbying Congress and bringing lawsuits to overturn or amend laws regarding interracial marriage, segregation, and race-based restrictions on immigration and naturalization. In the 1970s, after some initial disagreement among leaders,[1] the organization became involved in the movement for redress for the wartime incarceration. The influence of JACL lobbyists was a key factor in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988,[2] which formally acknowledged the unconstitutionality of and provided reparations for the incarceration. A younger generation of JACL leadership has made an effort to acknowledge the consequences of its wartime actions, officially apologizing for its condemnation of Nisei draft resisters in 2002.

Today, the national organization consists of 108 chapters, mostly located in major cities and metropolitan areas across the country. These chapters are separated geographically into seven district councils, each of which is headed by a district governor. The organization is guided by a board of elected officials, consisting of the officers and district governors. [3] As demographic and political shifts change the face of the Japanese American community, the JACL has expanded its mission to protect the rights of Asian Pacific Americans and people of all ethnic groups, and to focus on issues important to the hapa identities of younger, mixed-race members. The JACL is also a strong supporter of marriage equality.

The JACL is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the US.[4]

Pre-war history of the JACL

In 1929, several already-established Nisei organizations merged to form the Japanese American Citizens League, most prominent among them Fresno's American Loyalty League (headed by Nisei UC educated dentist, Dr. Thomas T. Yatabe b1897-d1977), the Seattle Progressive Citizens League, and the San Francisco-based New American Citizens League.[1] The nascent JACL held its first national conference in Seattle in 1930[5] and soon after began work to expand the citizenship rights of Japanese and Asian Americans, who were considered unassimilable to American society and therefore ineligible for naturalization under the Immigration Act of 1924. Their first target was the Cable Act of 1922, which revoked the citizenship of women who married men ineligible for citizenship, namely Asian immigrants. After a successful lobbying campaign, Congress amended the act in 1931. Next, the JACL began a campaign to allow Issei and other Asian American veterans of the First World War to become U.S. citizens. In 1935, the Nye-Lea Act secured citizenship rights for these men.

Relocation and Internment

Within hours of the Japanese navy's December 7, 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, the FBI began arresting Japanese American community leaders (mostly Issei Japanese language school teachers, priests, martial arts instructors, and business owners).[6] Members of the JACL testified at government hearings to promote an image of Nisei as loyal and patriotic Americans, an effort to counteract rumors of fifth column activity that had spread in the wake of Pearl Harbor. At the same time, the JACL aided FBI and Naval Intelligence officials to identify potentially disloyal Issei, a move many Japanese Americans argued effectively bought political safety for a small segment of the community at the expense of its more vulnerable members.[7]

When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, JACL leadership did not question the constitutionality of the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Instead, arguing it would better serve the community to follow government orders without protest, the organization advised the approximately 120,000 affected to go peacefully and distanced itself from those who actively opposed the order.[8]

Throughout the war, the JACL made efforts to ensure some measure of protection and comfort for Japanese Americans resettling outside government concentration camps, providing loans and establishing offices in Chicago to assist families resettling in the Midwest.[1] The organization argued for and won the right of Japanese Americans to serve in the U.S. military, resulting in the creation of a segregated unit, the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which joined with the 100th Battalion from Hawaii and became the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history, despite having only served in combat for a little over a year in the European theater of the war.

Civil rights

Following the war, the JACL began a long series of legislative efforts to win the rights of Japanese Americans. In 1946, the JACL embarked on a hard-fought campaign to repeal California's Alien Land Law, which, enacted in the early years of the 20th century, prohibited all Japanese aliens (i.e. immigrants) from purchasing and owning land in the state, one of the most discriminatory statutes enacted in California against Japanese Americans. In 1948, the JACL helped found the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and, in the same year, succeeded in gaining passage of the Evacuation Claims Act, the first of a series of efforts to rectify the losses and injustices of the World War II internment. In 1949, the JACL initiated efforts in the U.S. Congress to gain the right of Japanese immigrants to become naturalized citizens of the U.S., a right denied to them for over fifty years. The 1951 Walter-McCarren Act, which was essentially a JACL-initiated bill, included language that opened a back door to give women in the United States a foothold on broadening their rights of participation in the democratic process. Among its major accomplishments, the organization committed its lobbying efforts for passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, the culmination of the great civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Redress for internment

In 1970, at its biennial convention in Chicago, the JACL passed a resolution calling for recognition of, and reparations for, the injustice of the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. It formalized the debate as a priority within the organization despite the Japanese American community's tepid response to the issue. In 1978, the JACL launched a campaign to seek redress from the U.S. government for the imprisonment and loss of freedom of Japanese Americans during World War II. The JACL was determined to seek some measure of legislative guarantee that the violation of constitutional rights visited upon Japanese Americans would never again be brought upon any group in the United States.

Within two years of launching the campaign, a JACL-sponsored legislation to create a federal investigative commission was approved by the Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the World War II internment and provide its findings to the Congress and the president. The commission's report in 1982 found that the government's actions were unjustified and unconstitutional, and based on this substantiation of its claims and on the commission's recommendations for monetary redress, the JACL sought legislation calling for monetary redress and a presidential apology.

The redress campaign culminated with the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided monetary compensation and a formal apology to the victims of the World War II internment. After ten years of campaigning in Washington D.C. and across the country through its chapters' grassroots efforts, the JACL brought to a close a final episode in one of the darkest chapters in the constitutional history of the nation.

Recent activities

In 1994, at its national convention, the JACL passed a resolution affirming its commitment to and support of the basic human right of marriage, including the right to marry for same-sex couples. The JACL was the first national civil rights membership organization to publicly and actively adopt this position, and it has continued to be in the forefront, advocating rights for same-sex marriage.[9]

The JACL has also spoken up and supported various civil rights issues such as immigration reform, military hazing, the indefinite detention clause in the National Defense Authorization Act, and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1882.


Bridging Communities Program

The Bridging Communities Program brings youth from the Japanese and Asian American community together with Muslim and Arab American youth. The program aims to create unity between communities that have become targets of racial profiling and suspicion. High school students attend workshops on identity, community, organizing, culture, and empowerment. The program culminates with the youth visiting the Tule Lake Relocation Center, Manzanar, and Minidoka National Historic Site concentration camps, which first confined Japanese Americans during World War II. The Bridging Communities program is funded by a grant from the National Park Service.

Organizational partners include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Tule Lake Pilgrimage Committee, the National Japanese American Historical Society, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Kizuna, and Friends of Minidoka.[10]

JACL/OCA Leadership Summit

This annual leadership training summit is a joint program organized by the JACL which includes participants from OCA National(formerly the Organization of Chinese Americans), the second largest Asian Pacific American civil rights organizations in the United States. This three-day conference provides an opportunity for thirty emerging leaders of all ages from JACL and OCA National to learn about current national public policy issues facing the Asian American community. Workshop topics range from coalition building techniques to the strategy of successful lobbying.

Youth Leadership Summit

The Youth Leadership Summit was first established in 2010 and has been a crucial part of JACL's youth involvement. The participants are engaged through workshops, discussions, and a tour of San Francisco's Japantown, one of the three remaining historic Japanese neighborhoods in the US. Workshop topics included an introduction to JACL where membership staff presented on the history, structure, and public policy advocacy roles of the JACL, and multiculturalism in the United States. The Youth Leadership Summit has been held annually in Chicago, Portland, and Washington DC. [11]

Collegiate Leadership Conference

Held every year, the Collegiate Leadership Conference was established in 2009 and is patterned after the JACL/OCA Washington, DC Leadership Conference. The conference consists of a three-day program connecting Asian American student leaders from around the country with community leaders and elected officials in Washington DC. Interactive workshops and seminars cover topics ranging from immigration reform to educational policy and includes speakers from the National Education Association, the Anti-Defamation Leage, and the White House Initiative on AAPIs. is limited to Asian American college students who are in their freshman, sophomore or junior year in school.


The JACL has been helping students achieve their educational dreams with the National Scholarship and Awards Program since 1946. The program currently offers over 30 awards, with an annual total of over $70,000 in scholarships to qualified students nationwide.

The National Scholarship and Awards Program offer scholarships to students at the entering freshman, undergraduate, graduate, law, financial need and creative & performing arts. All scholarships are one-time awards. [12]

National Convention

History of National Convention

The first JACL National Convention was held on August 29, 1930 in Seattle, Washington. The first post World War II National JACL Convention was held in Denver, Colorado. Adoption of a 14-point program of rebuilding which included Issei naturalization, reparations for discriminatory treatment during the war, re-examination of the constitutionality of the evacuation, stay of deportation on hardship cases involving Japanese nationals, a call for a national conference of minorities, elimination of racial discrimination in housing and employment, challenge of the alien land laws, creation of a research clearinghouse on the evacuation, and assistance of returning Nisei veterans.

2013 National Convention

The 2013 JACL National Convention was held July 24–26, 2013 in Washington DC. The theme for the 44th convention is "Justice for All".

Notable members

See also

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 Cherstin Lyon. "Japanese American Citizens League," Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Feb 14 2014.)
  2. Leslie T. Hatamiya. Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Stanford University Press, 1993), 145.
  3. "JACL Chapter List".
  4. Tsuruoka, Doug (20 November 2016). "Japanese group blasts idea of Muslim registry in US". www.atimes.com. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  5. JACL. "History of the Japanese American Citizens League" (accessed Feb 14 2014)
  6. Densho. "About the Incarceration: Arrests of Community Leaders" (accessed Feb 14 2014)
  7. Spickard, Paul (1996). Japanese Americans, the Formation and Transformations of an Ethnic Group. Twayne Publishers. p. 95. ISBN 0-8057-9242-2.
  8. Yamato, Sharon (October 21, 2014). "Carrying the Torch: Wayne Collins Jr. on His Father's Defense of the Renunciants". Discover Nikkei.
  9. "JACL Praises Obama for Stance on Same-Sex Marriage".
  10. "About the Bridging Communities Program".
  11. "JACL Hosts First National Youth Leadership Summit" (PDF).
  12. "JACL Scholarships".
  13. "Charles Z. Smith". Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. University of Washington. Retrieved 2015-09-21.

Website for national organization

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