Roger Daniels, historian of the Nikkei experience, dies


Roger Daniels (R) with Barbara Takei file photo

Roger Daniels (R) with Barbara Takei
file photo

Historian Roger Daniels, whose early works documented and gave a respected voice to the Japanese American incarceration experience, died Dec. 9, 2022 in Bellevue, Wash., sources said, a week after celebrating his 95th birthday.

Among Daniels’ iconic works was the groundbreaking “Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II,” which was published in 1972.

“Before Roger published ‘Concentration Camps USA’ … a critical study of the incarceration didn’t really exist,” wrote Seattle, Wash.-based writer Frank Abe, director of the film “Conscience and the Constitution,” on Abe’s film shed light on the largest resistance to the military draft from behind barbed wire, in the Heart Mountain, Wyo. concentration camp.

“For me it set the standard for Japanese American history as a field of study …,” Abe continued, “and his book was the first to reveal the existence of principled resistance at Heart Mountain.”

Daniels was hired as the chair of the History Department at the University of Cincinnati in 1976, and served as editor of the University of Illinois Press, overseeing the publication of many books on Asian American history. In the past decade, he and his wife Judith would relocate from Cincinnati to Seattle’s Eastside to be close to their grandchildren, Abe noted.

In addition to “Concentration Camps USA,” Daniels’ works included “The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion” (1962), “Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II” (1993) and “Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882” (2005).

Even later in life Daniels remained productive, publishing “The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War” in 2013 and a two-volume work on former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 2015 and 2016.
In her review of “The Japanese American Cases” for the Nichi Bei Weekly, Chizu Omori wrote: “As for then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role in creating the policies, Daniels has this to say: ‘It seems to me likely that the president’s fear of the political consequences of not taking steps against the West Coast Japanese was more significant than any fears he might have had of invasion or sabotage.’”

Daniels also served as a consultant to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians from 1981 to 1983, noted the Japanese American National Museum. While calling him a scholar, Abe said Daniels “never hid behind academia, never hesitated to speak truth to power.”

“Roger’s death marks the loss of an early and outstanding historian of immigration history and World War II Japanese American history,”

Ann Burroughs, JANM’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “His books and writings are part of the field’s foundation.”

JANM’s Chief Curator Karen Ishizuka, added, “Roger was critical in our struggle to keep our exhibition title, ‘America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience,’ intact when it was threatened with censorship by the Ellis Island immigration museum in 1998. When, at the eleventh hour, we were told that the exhibition would not be displayed unless the term ‘concentration camp’ was stricken from the title, I called Roger. … With Roger’s and others’ assistance, we indeed succeeded in moving the federal government.”

“I think Roger Daniels’ groundbreaking contributions to Japanese American history are of a fundamental importance,” said Art Hansen, professor emeritus of history and Asian American studies at California State University, Fullerton. “For over half a century, he reigned as the dean of Japanese American historiography, not only through his profusion of high-quality books, articles, and reviews, but also as a consequence of his role as an expert witness and consultant for the successful Japanese American redress and reparations movement.”

Many opined on his legacy.

“Roger was a remarkable man, a brilliant scholar as well as a wise and generous human being,” said historian and Nichi Bei Weekly columnist Greg Robinson, in a reflection on the Discover Nikkei Website.

“(His) legacy I think will consist primarily of his being a courageous and consequential warrior of justice for the civil, human, and property rights of the wrongly impugned Japanese American population before, during, and even well after World War II,” said Hansen.

“His historical perspective on American immigration and World War II incarceration helped inform current issues of immigration, racism, and terminology regarding the incarceration,” said Burroughs. “We feel his loss not only in our community but across the nation,”

“Roger will be missed, but he leaves a defining body of work that will stand forever as his legacy,” said Abe.

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