Bainbridge Island sits in Puget Sound, a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The lush island has been named among the best places to live in the United States. I visited to attend a three-day symposium for museum folks gathered from around the country. While there, I went to see the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, a work in progress to commemorate a sad chapter in American history. The spot overlooks Eagle Harbor and downtown Winslow.
The first generation of Japanese immigrants came to the island in 1883. They developed successful farms on the island, the main crop was strawberries. On March 30, 1942 their stable lives changed forever. With only 6 days notice and only allowed to bring what they could carry, 227 Bainbridge Island men, women and children became the first mass community of Japanese Americans to be relocated into internment camps due to the U.S. government’s fear of espionage and disloyalty to the government. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came fear throughout the United States. This group was the first of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were put into internment camps during World War II. Two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens.
A 276-foot long Memorial Wall of old-growth cedar, granite and basalt includes the names of all 276 people who were banished from their homes on Bainbridge Island by Executive Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1. Colorful paper origami birds hang the length of the wall and carved wood panels illustrate the lives they led on Bainbridge.
The monument opened in 2011 and is the first segment of the memorial. Eventually it will include a visitor center and a walkway down to the historic Eagledale Ferry Dock site where the internees boarded boats. The memorial is a satellite of the National Park Service’s Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho. It speaks of an important chapter in American history.