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Franklin Odo on Martial Law

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Aloha e, I was recently interviewed by a young Hawaiʻi journalist. When I mentioned the hardship caused by martial law in Hawaiʻi (December 7, 1941 – October 24, 1944), her response was one of surprise. She admitted that she knew nothing about Martial Law in Hawaiʻi. The fact that a university graduate was ignorant of this dark chapter in Hawaiʻi history was not a surprise. Like many, she was probably aware of the forced removal of more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from their homes and properties and their relocation to internment camps on the Continental U.S. following Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt on February 9,1942. Many assume that EO 9066 also applied to Hawaiʻi. In Hawaiʻi, martial law was imposed within hours of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. It meant curtailment of rights and liberties for all residents, no matter the ethnic origin or citizenship. Habeas Corpus was suspended, freedom of assembly and right to organize was curtailed. Failure to show up for employment was a criminal offense. The system of courts was replaced by tribunals composed of military, business, and law enforcement representatives. For the more than 60,000 plantation laborers and their families, it meant a new low in indentured servitude! The dominant ethnic groups involved were both Filipino and Japanese! In November 2021 we interviewed historian and Asian American history scholar, Dr. Franklin Odo who shared his reflections on what martial law meant for Hawaiʻi and how it helped set the stage for workers embracing the union movement.

For more information about Hawaiʻi and martial law, the Densho Encyclopedia is an excellent starting place: ttps://encyclopedia.densho.org/Martial_law_in_Hawaii/. One of our goals for the Ah Quon McElrath Project is to bring forgotten and hidden history to light and make accessible the voices of the women and men who struggled to end oppression. Our documentary, The Struggle Never Ends, features the life of organizer and activist, Ah Quon McElrath, it introduces the public to some of AQ’s colleagues, comrades and friends who were involved in this struggle. Since only so much can be portrayed in a one hour film, we have created a website: www.laborhistoryhawaii.org, allowing us to share archival stories from hundreds of AQ’s contemporaries. Please share this site with your friends, families, and coworkers. Those who sign up for the mailing list will receive the monthly AQ Bulletin and be introduced to short video clips featuring stories about Hawaiʻi’s working class history! Mahalo Nui Loa, Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer The Ah Quon McElrath Project

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