Heart Mountain, Wyoming and the Japanese American Incarceration

An NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop

Cody/Powell, Wyoming, July 2020

Welcome and Overview

Yoshio Okumoto, Okumoto CollectionHMWF 2010.099.416
HMWF 2010.099.612
HMWF 2010.099.366
HMWF 2010.099.094


Within months of the December 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, over 110,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of them native-born U.S. citizens, were forced from their homes on the West Coast and sent to ten incarceration sites in California, the interior west, and Arkansas.

In July 2020, through a Landmarks of American History and Culture grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation will host two week-long educator workshops to illuminate this national historical event. The workshops will occur at the Heart Mountain confinement site, which now houses a nationally recognized interpretive center, and the nearby towns of Cody and Powell, Wyoming.

More than 14,000 Japanese Americans were confined at Heart Mountain during World War II, and spent up to three years coping with the loss of their homes, businesses, and freedom. The surroundings at Heart Mountain, as well as those in the camps outside Arkansas, were forbidding and desolate. The prisoners responded in a myriad of ways: Some submitted to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), while others challenged the military draft; some turned the sandy soil into productive farmland, and others chronicled their incarceration through art and writing.

Many Americans know very little, if anything, about the incarceration. Yet it was one of the few actions for which the federal government later apologized; a 1988 law signed by President Ronald Reagan also authorized paying $20,000 to each surviving prisoner to compensate them for their losses. The apology did little to mute deep conversations about the legacy of prejudice, the denial of constitutional rights, and the role of presidential powers, along with the complicity of Congress and the courts. Japanese Americans were imprisoned without evidence; no proof supported the alleged threats of espionage and sabotage following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Workshop

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation invites teachers of grades 5-12 from around the country to spend a week of summer 2020 learning about the Japanese American incarceration. Beginning with the stories of the first immigrants from Japan, the workshop will take participants through the Pearl Harbor attack and wartime hysteria that followed, to the incarceration, and eventually to the apology and redress payments by the federal government in 1988. Teachers will be guided in developing dynamic lessons using primary and secondary source materials such as digitized artifacts, oral histories, and newspapers.

This NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop will be offered twice: July 19-24 and July 26-31, 2020. Participants will have the opportunity to experience and engage with the local culture. The first week will coincide with the Return to Foretop’s Father event of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe of Native Americans, while the second will be tied to the annual pilgrimage of former World War II incarcerees and their family members to the Heart Mountain confinement site. Please indicate your preference and availability on your application due March 1, 2020.

Most of our sessions will be held at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center located between Cody and Powell, Wyo.; the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is the institutional host. The foundation runs a world-class museum at the site of the actual World War II concentration camp and the workshop will also work with two local museums – the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Homesteader Museum in Powell.

Who We Are

Our faculty includes scholars of the Japanese American experience and the incarceration from all over the country. They have decades of experience in teaching this history and telling these stories to students and teachers. Sessions will be led by former incarcerees at Heart Mountain, leaders of our foundation, and scholars from California to Massachusetts who have broadened the knowledge of thousands of students over the past four decades.

Our directors Ray Locker from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and master teacher Tyson Emborg have a great deal of combined experience in working with teachers. For more on the faculty and staff associated with this workshop, please visit our faculty and staff pages.