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Little Tokyo: 1942

Little Tokyo: 1942

April 1942. "Los Angeles, California. Street scene in Little Tokyo." Medium format acetate negative by Russell Lee for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Waiting for the photographer

That gentleman knew how to dress and how to pose. His calm and composed look belies how his world was changing for the worse; and that the photographer was from the Office of War Information.

Today, THE street scene in Little Tokyo

The blocklong stretch of First Street that you see in this photo is today the last vestige of what was once a much larger Japanese-American community. While there would have been several blocks of similar scenes at that time, now this is pretty much all ya got.

This scene would be changing rather drastically very soon after this date, as most of the community - and likely many of the subjects of this very photo - were forcibly removed and would be spending the next several years in "housing" courtesy of the US Gov't. The The faces of Little Tokyo then literally changed, when many Latino families took advantage of the vacancies and most of the area became a thriving Mexican-American community.

The "Chop Suey" sign (I know, I know) you see in the distance has been saved and is still extant on an adjacent building.

Let us Remember Three who Dissented

In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to allow the internment of Japanese Americans. The three dissenting Justices were Frank Murphy, Robert Jackson, and Owen Roberts. All all criticized the exclusion as racially discriminatory. Murphy wrote that the internment resembled "the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy."

Looking east - Far East - on First Street

As can be seen in the now shot (below), "Little Tokyo" fared better than its big brother in the years ahead: most of the buildings remain. Not so the PCC car, or the Sumitomo Bank name ... though it did manage to grow from the "exchange (only) bank" it was when this shot was taken, to a full service one.


Below is the same view from November of 2016.

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