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Local educator to receive national human and civil rights award

WASHINGTON - June 24, 2009 -

For her work in bringing attention to the plight of interned Japanese Americans, Dr. Johanna Miller Lewis, a historian from Little Rock, Ark., will receive the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award at the National Education Association’s annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner in San Diego, Calif., on July 2, 2009.

Ellison S. Onizuka (1946–1986) was the first Asian/Pacific Islander chosen by NASA for the astronaut program. Onizuka was serving as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded on January 28, 1986, killing all aboard. NEA presents the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award to an individual whose activities in Asian and Pacific Island affairs have made a significant impact on education and the achievement of equal opportunity for Asians and Pacific Islanders.

In February 1942, America was still dazed by the December 7, 1941, attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. There was concern that Japanese Americans living near the Pacific coast might have ties to their homeland and would undermine efforts of the allies. Consequently, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which moved more than 110,000 Japanese Americans to 10 internment camps. Two of the camps were located in Southeastern Arkansas.

Dr. Lewis developed Lives Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas, a public exhibit focused on the two Arkansas relocation camps that together held over 17,000 Japanese-Americans who were shipped in from Hawaii and California. Rohwer relocation camp in Desha County, Ark., held a peak internment population of 8,475. Jerome relocation camp, which was in both Drew and Chicot Counties, held a peak number of 8,497 detainees.

Dr. Lewis worked with Japanese American partners and coalitions to get legislation passed in Arkansas and nationally that has preserved sites associated with the internment. While passed, the bills aren’t funded so Miller has made it a crusade to help the National Park Service (NPS) establish criteria for grants to community organizations for preservation, conservation and education at sites.

“Johanna Miller Lewis has worked hard to raise awareness about one of this country’s darkest periods and greatest injustices,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Her efforts have provided valuable insight into the lives of Japanese Americans, and she has ensured that their struggle is not forgotten and that it earns the respect due in contemporary social justice dialogue.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals,
school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.


CONTACT:  Stacey Grissom
(202) 822-7823,