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Archived Public Program

Coffee & Collections: The Empty Chair

March 2017

Sketch of the Empty Chair Memorial.

Join us for a screening of the documentary "The Empty Chair," which tells the story of how Japanese Americans from Juneau were sent to internment camps during World War II, and how the community of Juneau "stood in quiet defiance against the internment of its citizens." The film showing will be accompanied by a presentation and question and answer session with film-maker Greg Chaney and Empty Chair Committee member Marie Darlin. Presenter Marie Darlin also appears in the documentary and was a high school student in 1941. She attended both the special graduation ceremony held for John Tanaka and the Juneau High School graduation where the “empty chair” was set aside.

The “empty chair” itself refers to a seat left unfilled at the 1942 Juneau High School graduation ceremony. This chair represented the absence of valedictorian John Tanaka, who was forced to leave Juneau with his family in April of that year because of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which relocated more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans from their West Coast communities to remote internment camps. Unlike many communities, citizens in Juneau practiced acts of “quiet defiance” against the order: writing affidavits for Japanese-American community members imprisoned in New Mexico, having a special ceremony for John Tanaka so he could receive his diploma before being evacuated, giving loans and support to the families who returned to Juneau after the internment camps were closed.

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