Publication Date

April 28, 2023

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


  • United States


Asian American and Pacific Islander, Migration, Immigration, & Diaspora, Political

Roger Daniels

Merrill Images, courtesy Daniels family

On December 9, 2022, Roger Daniels died in Seattle, Washington, shortly after his 95th birthday. A towering figure in immigration history and Asian American studies, Daniels catalyzed scholarly interest in the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and played an influential role in pushing the US government to award redress to Japanese Americans.

Roger was born on December 1, 1927, in New York City. The son of immigrants from the United Kingdom and Hungary, he grew up amid the social upheaval of the Great Depression. He described his youth as “itinerant,” as his family moved across the United States in search of work. His background informed his later worldview and inspired him to study the experiences of working-class families.

After serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II and the US Army during the Korean War, Daniels attended the University of Houston on the GI Bill and then enrolled in the history PhD program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1957. Daniels hoped to write his dissertation on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, but government records on the subject were unavailable to scholars. His mentor Theodore Saloutos suggested instead he study the history of California’s anti-Japanese movements at the turn of the 20th century. His dissertation became his first book, The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion (Univ. of California Press, 1962), which covered the end of the 19th century through passage of the 1913 Alien Land Law. The book remains a key work in immigration studies and has seen multiple editions.

In the following years, Daniels was devoted to documenting the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. In 1971, Daniels published Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), which challenged the US government’s argument that military necessity justified the incarceration. He followed up with an updated volume, Concentration Camps North America (Krieger, 1981), with a chapter on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Canadians, and The Decision to Relocate the Japanese Americans (Lippincott, 1975). He completed his series on wartime incarceration with the capsule history Prisoners without Trial (Hill and Wang, 1993). Daniels also published American Concentration Camps (Garland, 1989), a nine-volume document collection based chiefly on materials from the National Archives.

Beyond Japanese incarceration, Daniels produced several distinguished historical surveys. They included The Bonus March (Greenwood, 1971) on the Depression-era political mobilization; Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Univ. of Washington Press, 1988) on the Asian American experience; Coming to America (HarperCollins, 1990) on US immigration history; and Guarding the Golden Door (Hill and Wang, 2004) on immigration restriction. He also worked tirelessly as an editor, most notably with the Asian American book series with the University of Illinois Press, through which he published and wrote introductions to dozens of studies.

Where Roger especially distinguished himself was his dedication to public advocacy. In 1967, Daniels and sociologist Harry Kitano organized at UCLA the first academic conference on Japanese Americans’ wartime experiences. The two then produced another with historian Sandra Taylor in Salt Lake City in 1983, which led to the edited volume Japanese Americans, from Relocation to Redress (Univ. of Utah Press, 1986). During the redress movement, Roger testified before multiple congressional hearings in support of financial compensation for Japanese Americans.

After a brief stint at UCLA, Daniels left in 1968 to teach at the University of Wyoming. As adviser to the Black Student Alliance, Daniels supported the “Black 14,” 14 football players who were dismissed from the team in 1969 when they protested the racial politics of opponent Brigham Young University. In 1976, Daniels was hired to chair the University of Cincinnati’s Department of History, where he remained until his retirement in 2002.

Retirement did little to hinder Roger’s productivity. He continued lecturing and editing and authored a two-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His last book-length contribution on wartime incarceration was The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2013).

He is survived by his wife Judith, son Rick, daughter Sarah, and several grandchildren.

Jonathan van Harmelen
University of California, Santa Cruz

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