Shortly after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forcibly relocated more than 100,000 people of Japanese heritage from their homes along the West Coast. They were sent to internment camps to live in dirt-floor huts without privacy, adequate food, or healthcare.

Clarence Pickett, then executive secretary of AFSC, declared this a “calamity” and staff began visiting almost immediately. Some AFSC personnel lived in the camps alongside the shocked, displaced residents. This provided not only material aid, but also the assurance that people outside the camps were concerned about this enormous human rights violation.

AFSC used two strategies to help achieve the release of residents from these camps. First, they identified colleges and universities in the Midwest and East who would accept qualified students. Second, they found jobs and housing for working-age men who were then able to bring their families to live with them.

It took support from many open-hearted Americans to educate, house, and employ fellow citizens who were being labeled as “enemies.” Ultimately, this effort helped secure the release of over 4,000 people.

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  • Group of people next to a train
    Executive Order 9066 set into motion the expulsion of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast in 1942. Men, women, and children–even veterans of WWI–were forcibly evacuated, with no time to arrange other living situations.
  • Row of wooden homes and one car
    Approximately 7,500 people from Seattle and the rural areas around Tacoma, Washington, were sent to the Puyallup assembly center and then transferred to a permanent "relocation center” farther inland. One resident wrote: “A typical room for a family of five at Puyallup is 17 x 20. …There is a washroom for every 250 persons.”
  • Students writing at a table as a teacher assists
    Manzanar Relocation Center in California was one of 10 hastily built government internment camps. By September 1942, it housed 10,000 Japanese-Americans, most of whom worked by farming or keeping the camp operating; many also took classes.
  • Group of children and a young adult sit on a bench under a palm tree
    AFSC first opened the Forsythe Hostel in Los Angeles in 1942 to aid families who had been forced from their homes by the War Relocation Authority. Photo: Lucile D. Fessenden
  • Child sitting on a bed in a room with several beds in it
    Conditions in the hostels, though crowded, were more comfortable than those in the internment camps, where bags stuffed with straw served as mattresses and communal latrines and showers had no stalls for privacy.
  • Man works on the mechanics of an engine
    The Des Moines Hostel was one of three opened by AFSC in 1943 to provide temporary housing for Japanese-Americans who had left internment with nowhere to go. Those lucky enough to find jobs nearby paid $1.50 per day; the unemployed paid only $1 daily.
  • Woman holding cloth in her hands
    By 1945, the Forsythe Hostel had become the Evergreen Hostel, a place where U.S. citizens who had been stripped of their homes and jobs could get back on their feet.