Brutalized by fear and suspicion during World War II, Japanese Americans found compassion here in Oberlin.
That local aspect of the story will be part of “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience,” a national traveling exhibit that will be hosted by Oberlin College from Feb. 17 to March 18.
The interactive show covers events from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the fateful decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans in wartime camps to the postwar fight for redress.
It also brings alive the stories of communities that embraced neighbors who were suspected of disloyalty solely because of their ancestry.
Oberlin was selected as one of 10 cities to host the exhibit because Oberlin College recruited and admitted nearly 40 Japanese American students during the war. City residents defended the students when their presence was questioned, and Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) students here spoke out and organized against racism and wartime discrimination.
The exhibit places this story of Oberlin’s response to incarceration in the broader context of Oberlin’s history of activism and current debates around sanctuary cities and campuses.
Visitors to “Courage and Compassion” can learn about the Japanese American World War II experience and its legacy and engage with questions about what courage looks like during a time of crisis.
“This exhibit reminds us of a history that is extraordinarily relevant today,” said Renee Romano, Robert. S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin and project codirector. “It offers us stories of local people who rejected wartime hysteria about Japanese Americans and insisted that the United States live up to its democratic ideals. Today, as the nation again debates issues of immigration, citizenship, and belonging, it is vital that we grapple with America’s checkered history of exclusion.”
The exhibit is planned by the Go For Broke National Education Center and funded in part by a grant from the National Parks Service.
Mitchell Maki, president and chief executive officer of Go For Broke, noted how Oberlin’s strong history of social justice advocacy reflects the legacy of Japanese American World War II veterans.
“The Nisei veterans championed the rights and duties of citizenship, the importance of due process, and the rule of law in our democracy,” he said. “They taught us that we cannot tolerate discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin, the God whom they worship, or their country of origin. They exemplify the best that America has to offer.”
“Courage and Compassion” will be free and open to public at the Richard D. Baron ’64 Art Gallery, 65 East College St.
It will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
During its month-long visit to Oberlin, the city and college will host a series of events related to the exhibit, including academic lectures, documentary film screenings, and talks by internment survivors.