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[Detail] Warehouse, Manzanar Relocation Center

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Readers of Born Free and Equal can gain insight into the meaning of the book by analyzing some of the choices Adams made in presenting his text and photographs. For example, consider the first few pages of Born Free and Equal. Adams opens the book with a full-spread image overlaid with the title.

  • Why do you think that Adams chose to title his book "Born Free and Equal"?
  • What impression do you get of the man in the photograph?
  • Why might Adams have selected this image for the title page and beginning of his book?How does the image enhance the title? How do they introduce the subject of the book?

After the title page, Adams includes some acknowledgements and then presents Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as a short excerpt from a letter that Abraham Lincoln sent to a colleague, Joshua Speed, in 1855:

"As a nation we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except Negroes.' When the know-Nothings get control it will read 'all men are created equal, except Negroes and Foreigners and Catholics.' When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty…where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base allow of hypocrisy."

Adams closes his foreword with the following statement:

I trust the content and message of this book will suggest that the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come.

  • Why does Adams include these excerpts of the Fourteenth Amendment and Lincoln's letter in the beginning of his book?
  • How do they influence the reader's expectations and reading of the book?
  • What do they suggest about the meaning of the book?
  • Why do you think Adams chose to quote Lincoln instead of a contemporary who could speak specifically about Japanese Americans?
  • What position does Adams appear to be taking at the end of the foreword?
  • Is the rest of the book consistent with this position?
  • What purpose do you think Adams wanted his foreword to serve and why?

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