Library of Congress/Yale

In the spring of 1942,  in one of the darkest marks in American history, the United States forcefully relocated Japanese-American citizens away from the West Coast. The order, which came from Secretary of War Henry Stimson, followed the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese troops; all told, around 120,000 people were sent to internment camps away from the Pacific Ocean by the War Relocation Authority and kept there until spring 1944.

This week Yale University released over 170,000 digital images (and counting) from the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Among these photos are a series taken by photographer Russell Lee who was in Los Angeles as Japanese-Americans were "evacuated" in the name of national security.

We've picked out several below:

A business in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo offers luggage to fellow evacuees at 50% off.

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Shop owners were forced to clear their inventory and get whatever money they could in return.
75% at this 'special sale' on silk shirts.

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Owens Valley, the site of one of the internment camps, is now a national historic site in California.

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Many of the clearances were dubbed 'evacuation sales.'

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This farmer probably received pennies on the dollar for this tractor (if he managed to sell it at all) and any other equipment he had.

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In a report by the War Department in 1944, Secretary Stimson bragged about how successfully the relocation effort was (emphasis ours).

Great credit, in my opinion, is due General DeWitt and the Army for the humane yet effi- cient manner in which this difficult task was handled. It was unfortunate that the exigencies of the military situation were such as to require the same treatment for all persons of Japa- nese ancestry, regardless of their individual loyalty to the United States. But in emergencies, where the safety of the Nation is involved, consideration of the rights of individuals must be subordinated to the common security. As General DeWitt points out, great credit is due our Japanese population for the manner in which they responded to and complied with the orders of exclusion.

You can read more about the evacuation of Japanese-Americans during World War II on the San Francisco Museum's website and see more Depression-era photos on Yale's Photogrammer site.

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David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net