Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing by President Franklin Roosevelt of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the wartime relocation of people of Japanese descent away from the American west coast and into inland internment camps. Eventually, over 117,000 Japanese-Americans were detained or imprisoned. U.S. citizenship was no safeguard against relocation by government officials, who were shocked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and influenced by anti-Asian attitudes in the United States that existed long before the beginning of World War II.
This is an appropriate day to announce my upcoming title on Counselor Books, now in final production. Is is about Ray Komai (1918-2010), a graphic designer and one of the many Japanese-Americans affected by Order 9066. Komai was from a well-known and fiercely pro-American newspaper publishing family in Los Angeles. He went on to become a highly-respected graphic designer and was only one of several internment camp prisoners who made a mark in the history of American design.
My book, Ray Komai: Design for America, describes Komai’s career and reproduces many examples of his work, including magazine covers, ads, books, textiles, furniture, and designs for the United States Information Agency. Ray Komai will be available this spring in softcover and e-book formats.
This is my third book on graphic design history. I am a graphic designer and the president of the Type Director’s Club (TDC) in New York, and began researching Komai after discovering a poster Komai designed for the TDC in 1958. I was impressed with the quality of Ray’s work and intrigued by the questions it raised about the internment of Japanese-Americans. Was his willingness to work for the U.S. government evidence that the internment experience wasn’t that bad? Or does his successful career quietly subvert racism and prove the fundamental injustice of Order 9066?
Not one Japanese-American was ever convicted of sabotage, the badly-planned and poorly-built internment camps eventually closed, and under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush the U.S. government formally apologized for the internment program. Executive Order 9066 was, to quote a 1996 study of camp Manzanar by the U.S. Department of the Interior, “a sweeping, and unprecedented, delegation of presidential power to an appointed subordinate. Although its authority was used only against Japanese Americans, it was an instrument that could have affected any American.”