100,000 Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. How many of you even know about this?
After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Government swiftly moved to begin solving the “Japanese Problem” on the West Coast of the United States, and in the evening hours of that same day the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested selected “enemy” aliens, including 2,192 who were of Japanese descent. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded. This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. The rest had been prevented from becoming citizens by federal law. Over 110,000 were imprisoned in the ten concentration camps.
Manzanar was the first of the ten concentration camps to be established. Initially, it was a temporary “reception center”, known as the Owens Valley Reception Center from March 21, 1942, to May 31, 1942. At that time, it was operated by the US Army's Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA).
The Owens Valley Reception Center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, 1942, and officially became the "Manzanar War Relocation Center." The first Japanese American prisoners to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp. By mid–April up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July the population of the camp neared 10,000. Over 90% of the prisoners were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California, and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Manzanar held 10,046 prisoners at its peak, and a total of 11,070 people were imprisoned there.
The weather at Manzanar had a tremendous impact on the prisoners, few of whom were accustomed to the extremes of the area's climate. The Owens Valley lies at an elevation of about 4,000 feet (1,220 m). Summers on the desert floor of the Owens Valley are generally hot, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F (38 °C) not uncommon. Winters bring occasional snowfall and daytime temperatures that often drop into the 40 °F (4 °C) range. At night, temperatures are generally 30–40 °F (16 to 22 °C) lower than the daytime highs, and high winds are common day or night. The area's mean annual precipitation is barely five inches (12.7 cm). The ever-present dust was a continual problem due to the frequent high winds, so much so that prisoners usually woke up in the morning covered from head to toe with a fine layer of dust, and barracks constantly had to be swept.
"In the summer, the heat was unbearable," said former Manzanar prisoner Ralph Lazo (see Notable Manzanar prisoners section, below). "In the winter, the sparsely rationed oil didn't adequately heat the tar paper covered pine barracks with the knotholes in the floor. The wind would blow so hard, it would toss rocks around."
Camp layout and facilities
The camp site was situated on 6,200 acres (2,510 ha) at Manzanar, leased from the City of Los Angeles, with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acres (220 ha). The residential area was about one square mile (2.6 km²), and consisted of 36 blocks of hastily constructed, 20-foot (6.1 m) by 100-foot (30.5 m) tarpaper barracks, with each prisoner family living in a single 20-foot (6.1 m) by 25-foot (7.6 m) “apartment” in the barracks. These apartments consisted of partitions with no ceilings, eliminating any chance of privacy. To be sure, privacy was a major problem for the prisoners, especially since the camp had communal men's and women's latrines.
“…One of the hardest things to endure was the communal latrines, with no partitions; and showers with no stalls,” said former Manzanar prisoner Rosie Kakuuchi.
Each residential block also had a communal mess hall, a laundry room, a recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank, although Block 33 lacked a recreation hall. In addition to the residential blocks, Manzanar had 34 additional blocks that had staff housing, camp administration offices, two warehouses, a garage, a camp hospital, and 24 firebreaks. The camp also had sentry posts at the main entrance, school facilities, a high school auditorium, staff housing, chicken and hog farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, a cooperative store, other shops, a camp newspaper, and other necessary amenities that one would expect to find in most American cities. Manzanar also had a camouflage net factory, an experimental plantation for producing natural rubber from the Guayule plant, and an orphanage called Children's Village, which housed 101 Japanese American orphans. The camp perimeter had eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police, and it was enclosed by five-strand barbed wire.
Life behind the barbed wire
After being uprooted from their homes and communities, the prisoners found themselves having to endure primitive, sub-standard conditions, lack of privacy, and having to wait in one line after another for meals, at latrines, and at the laundry room. Each camp was intended to be self-sufficient, and Manzanar was no exception. Cooperatives operated various services, such as the camp newspaper, beauty and barber shops, shoe repair, and more. In addition, prisoners raised chickens, hogs, and vegetables, and cultivated the existing orchards for fruit. Prisoners even made their own soy sauce and tofu.
Food at Manzanar was based on military requirements. Meals usually consisted of hot rice and vegetables, since meat was scarce due to rationing. In early 1944, a chicken ranch began operation, and in late April of the same year, a hog farm was opened. Both operations provided a welcome supplement to the prisoners' diet.
Most prisoners were employed at Manzanar to keep the camp running. Unskilled workers earned US$8 per month, semi-skilled workers earned $12 per month, skilled workers made $16 per month, and professionals earned $19 per month. In addition, all prisoners received $3.60 per month as a clothing allowance.
The prisoners also made Manzanar more liveable through recreation, and participated in sports, including baseball and football, and martial arts. They also personalized and beautified their barren surroundings by building elaborate gardens, which often included pools, waterfalls, and rock ornaments. There was even a nine-hole golf course. Remnants of some of the gardens, pools, and rock ornaments are still present at Manzanar.
Although most prisoners quietly accepted their fate during World War II, there was some resistance in the camps. Poston, Heart Mountain, Topaz, and Tule Lake each had civil disturbances about wage differences, black marketing of sugar, intergenerational friction, rumors of “informers” reporting to the camp administration or the FBI, and other issues. However, the most serious incident occurred at Manzanar on December 5–6, 1942, and became known as the Manzanar Riot.
After several months of tension between prisoners who supported the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and a group of Kibei (Japanese Americans educated in Japan), rumors spread that sugar and meat shortages were the result of black marketing by camp administrators. To make matters worse, prisoner and JACL leader Fred Tayama was beaten by six masked men. Harry Ueno, the leader of the Kitchen Workers Union, was suspected of involvement and was arrested and removed from Manzanar. Soon after, 3,000 to 4,000 prisoners gathered and marched to the administration area, protesting Ueno's arrest. After Ueno's supporters negotiated with the camp administration, he was returned to the Manzanar jail, but a crowd of several hundred returned to protest. When the crowd surged forward, military police threw tear gas to disperse them. As people ran to avoid the tear gas, some in the crowd pushed a driverless truck toward the jail. At that moment, the military police fired into the crowd, killing a 17–year–old boy instantly. A 21–year–old man who was shot in the abdomen died days later. Nine other prisoners were wounded, and a military police corporal was wounded by a ricocheting bullet.
On November 21, 1945, the WRA closed Manzanar, the sixth camp to be closed. Although the prisoners had been brought to the Owens Valley by the United States Government, they had to leave the camp on their own, with the WRA giving $25, one-way train or bus fare, and meals to those who had less than $600. While many left the camp voluntarily, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. As such, they had to be forcibly removed once again, this time from Manzanar. Indeed, those who refused to leave were generally removed from their barracks, sometimes by force, even if they had no place to go.
The Manzanar cemetery site is marked by a monument that was built by prisoner stonemason Ryozo Kado in 1943. An inscription in Japanese on the front of the monument reads, 慰靈塔 (Soul Consoling Tower). The inscription on the back reads "Erected by the Manzanar Japanese" on the left, and "August 1943" on the right. Today, the monument is often draped in strings of origami, and sometimes offerings of personal items are left by survivors and other visitors. The National Park Service periodically collects and catalogues these items.
After the camp was closed, the site eventually returned to its original state, and within a couple of years all the structures had been removed, with the exception of the two sentry posts at the entrance, the cemetery monument, and the former Manzanar High School auditorium, which was purchased by the County of Inyo. The County leased the auditorium to the Independence Veterans of Foreign Wars, who used it as a meeting facility and community theater until 1951. After that, the building was used as a maintenance facility by the Inyo County Road Department.
As of 2007, the site also retains numerous building foundations, portions of the water and sewer systems, the outline of the road grid, remains of the landscaping constructed by prisoners, and much more. And despite four years of use by the prisoners, the site also retains evidence of the ranches and of the town of Manzanar, as well as artifacts from the days of the Owens Valley Paiute settlement.
Sue Kunitomi Embrey, born on January 6, 1923, was an editor of the Manzanar Free Press, the camp newspaper, and wove camouflage nets to support the war effort. She left Manzanar in late 1943 for Madison, Wisconsin and one year later moved to Chicago, Illinois. She returned to California in 1948 and went on to become a schoolteacher and a labor and community activist. In 1969, Embrey was one of approximately 150 people who attended the first organized Manzanar Pilgrimage (see Manzanar Pilgrimage section, below) and was one of the founders of the annual event. She also went on to become the primary force behind the preservation of the site and its gaining National Historic Site status.
"Embrey took her pain and anger from the unjust internment and turned it into a life dedicated to making certain that would never happen again," said Rose Ochi, legal counsel for the Manzanar Committee, after Embrey passed away on May 15, 2006. "She was just tireless and as a teacher she was making certain that our history books did talk about the tragic episode."
"The reason [that the Manzanar National Historic Site has] been accepted by Japanese Americans, local Owens Valley residents and general visitors is in large part because of [Embrey's] knowledge and her personal experience," said Alisa Lynch, Chief of Interpretation, Manzanar National Historic Site. "She had the insight to help us be able to be truthful, to be accurate. She was a historian and an internee, she could wear many different hats."
Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig, born in 1925 in Los Angeles, was 17 years old when she was imprisoned at Manzanar. Later, she was incarcerated at Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. Yoshinaga-Herzig later moved to New York where she became a community activist in the 1960s and was a member of Asian Americans for Action (AAA), the first Asian American political organization on the East Coast, which included Asian American activists Bill and Yuri Kochiyama. Although she was not trained to be an archival researcher, Yoshinaga-Herzig decided to find out what historical documents about herself and her family might exist at the National Archives.
Yoshinaga-Herzig and her husband, John "Jack" Herzig, pored over mountains of documents from the War Relocation Authority, a task that "was roughly equivalent to indexing all the information in a library, working from a card catalog that only gave a subject description by shelf, without giving individual book titles or authors." Their efforts resulted in the discovery of evidence that the US Government perjured itself before the United States Supreme Court in the 1944 cases Korematsu v. United States, Hirabayashi v. United States, and Yasui v. United States by presenting falsified evidence to the Court, by destroying evidence, and by withholding other vital information. This evidence provided the legal basis Japanese Americans needed to seek redress and reparations for their wartime imprisonment. The Herzigs' research was also valuable in their work with the National Coalition for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), which filed a class-action lawsuit against the US Government on behalf of the prisoners. The US Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff.
William Minoru Hohri, born in San Francisco, California, in 1927, was imprisoned at Manzanar when he was 15 years old. His family entered Manzanar on April 3, 1942, and remained behind the barbed wire until August 25, 1945. Hohri became a civil rights and anti-war activist after World War II. In the late 1970s he became the chair of NCJAR, which brought a class-action lawsuit against the US Government on March 16, 1983, asserting that it had unjustly imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II. The lawsuit stated twenty-two causes of action, including fifteen alleged violations of constitutional rights, and sought $27 billion in damages. Despite the fact the US Supreme Court eventually ruled against the class action plaintiffs, the lawsuit helped bring the case for redress and reparations to public awareness. It showed the Congress and the Executive Branch that the US Government would have far greater exposure in the still-pending lawsuit than by legislation under consideration in Congress for reparations. The proposed bill called for $20,000 reparations payments to each former prisoner or their immediate relatives, along with money for a civil liberties education fund (see Civil Liberties Act of 1988).
"…(The class action lawsuit) remained active until after Congress had passed the redress legislation. While it remained alive, it played a significant part in publicizing the issues. The NCJAR lawsuit demanded $220,000 for each individual whose liberties had been denied. This was more than twenty times greater than the $20,000 per surviving incarcerated person that the redress bills proposed, allowing proponents to portray the legislative solution as a moderate alternative."
Ralph Lazo, born in 1924 in Los Angeles, was of Mexican American and Irish descent, but when at age 16 he learned that his Japanese American friends and neighbors were being forcibly relocated and imprisoned at Manzanar, he was outraged. Lazo was so incensed that he joined friends on a train that took hundreds to Manzanar in May 1942. Manzanar officials never asked him about his ancestry.
"Internment was immoral," Lazo told the Los Angeles Times. "It was wrong, and I couldn't accept it." "These people hadn't done anything that I hadn't done except to go to Japanese language school."
In 1944, Lazo was elected president of his class at Manzanar High School. He remained at Manzanar until August of that year, when he was inducted into the US Army. He served as a Staff Sergeant in the South Pacific until 1946, helping liberate the Philippines. Lazo was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in combat. After the war, he was a strong supporter of redress and reparations for Japanese Americans imprisoned during the war. The film, Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story, from Visual Communications, documents his life story, particularly his stand against the internment.
Toyo Miyatake, who was born in Kagawa, Shikoku, Japan, in 1896, immigrated to the United States in 1909. He settled in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, and was imprisoned at Manzanar along with his family. A photographer, Miyatake smuggled a lens and film holder into Manzanar and later had a craftsman construct a wooden box with a door that hid the lens. He took many now-famous photos of life and the conditions at Manzanar. His contraband camera was eventually discovered by the camp administration and confiscated. However, camp director Ralph Merritt later allowed Miyatake to photograph freely within the camp, even though he was not allowed to actually press the shutter button, requiring a guard or camp official to perform this simple task. Merritt finally saw no point to this technicality, and allowed Miyatake to take photos himself.
Sadao Munemori volunteered for service with the US Army directly from Manzanar, and served in Europe with the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage when he single-handedly knocked out two machine guns and dove on a grenade, smothering its blast—sacrificing his own life to save two comrades near Seravezza, Italy, on April 5, 1945.
Harry Ueno, born in Hawaii in 1907, was a Kibei (Japanese American educated in Japan) who was imprisoned at Manzanar with his wife and children. After volunteering for mess hall work, Ueno discovered that Manzanar camp staff were stealing rationed sugar and meat and selling them on the black market. Ueno exposed the thefts, and worked to organize prisoners to deal with them. This led to his arrest, which resulted in Ueno becoming the focal point of the Manzanar Riot. Ueno was one of the prisoners featured in Emiko Omori's Emmy Award-winning film Rabbit in the Moon.
"Ueno made us aware there was opposition in the camps," said Omori. "He made us feel that people did fight back and made us realize that one person can make a difference."
Karl Yoneda was born in Glendale, California, on July 15, 1906, but his family moved to Japan in 1913. He became an activist early in his life. With Japan on a path towards war, Yoneda returned to the United States rather than be drafted into the Japanese Army. He arrived in San Francisco on December 14, 1926. He was taken to the Immigration Detention House on Angel Island, where he was detained for two months, despite having his California birth certificate. Yoneda later moved to Los Angeles, where he found work organizing with the Trade Union Educational League, and later the Japanese Workers' Association. Yoneda arrived at Manzanar on March 22, 1942, one of the first Japanese Americans to arrive as a volunteer to build the camp. Yoneda later distinguished himself in service to the US, volunteering to serve in the Military Intelligence Service. After the war, Yoneda continued to support progressive causes and civil and human rights issues.
Preservation and remembrance
In 1969, about 150 people departed Los Angeles by car and bus, headed for Manzanar. It was the "first" annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. But as it turned out, two ministers, Reverends Sentoku Maeda and Soichi Wakahiro, had been making annual pilgrimages to Manzanar since the camp closed in 1945.
The non-profit Manzanar Committee, formerly led by Sue Kunitomi Embrey, has sponsored the Pilgrimage since 1969. The event is held annually on the last Saturday of April with hundreds of visitors of all ages and backgrounds, including some former prisoners, gathering at the Manzanar cemetery to remember the internment and to learn about it in the hope that what is generally accepted to be a tragic chapter in American history is neither forgotten nor repeated. The program traditionally consists of speakers, cultural performances, an interfaith service, and Ondo dancing.
In 1997, the Manzanar At Dusk program became a part of the Pilgrimage. The program attracts local area residents, as well as descendents of Manzanar's ranch days and the town of Manzanar. Through small-group discussions, the event gives participants the opportunity to hear directly about the experiences of former prisoners firsthand, to share their experiences and feelings about what they learned, and talk about the relevance of what happened at Manzanar to their own lives.
California Historical Landmark
The Manzanar Committee's efforts resulted in the State of California naming Manzanar as California Historical Landmark # 850 in 1972, with an historical marker being placed at the sentry post on April 14, 1973.
National Historic Landmark and National Historic Site
The Manzanar Committee also spearheaded efforts for Manzanar to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in February 1985, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark. Embrey and the Committee also led the effort to have Manzanar designated a National Historic Site, and on March 3, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed House Resolution 543 into law (Pub.L. 102-248; 106 Stat. 40). This act of Congress established the Manzanar National Historic Site "to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II." Five years later, the National Park Service acquired 814 acres (329.4 ha) of land at Manzanar from the City of Los Angeles.
The site features an Interpretive Center housed in the historically restored Manzanar High School Auditorium, which has a permanent exhibit that tells the stories of the prisoners at Manzanar, the Owens Valley Paiute, the ranchers, the town of Manzanar, and water in the Owens Valley.
“…Stories like this need to be told, and too many of us have passed away without telling our stories," Embrey said during her remarks at the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center on April 24, 2004. "The Interpretive Center is important because it needs to show to the world that America is strong as it makes amends for the wrongs it has committed, and that we will always remember Manzanar because of that."
The site, which has seen 522,749 people visit between 2000 and 2007, features restored sentry posts at the camp entrance, a replica of a camp watchtower, a self-guided tour road, and informational markers. Staff offer guided tours and other educational programs, including a Junior Ranger educational program for children between four and fifteen years of age. The National Park Service is working to restore an historic mess hall; build a replica of a portion of a residential block, including barracks; and plant historically appropriate vegetation. They are also taking oral histories of former prisoners and others from all periods of Manzanar's history.
A made-for-television movie, Farewell to Manzanar, aired on March 11, 1976 on NBC. It was based on the 1973 memoir of the same name, written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was imprisoned at Manzanar as a child, and her husband James D. Houston. The book and the movie tell the story of the Wakatsuki family and their experiences behind the barbed wire through young Jeanne's eyes.
Come See The Paradise, was a feature film about how forced relocation and imprisonment at Manzanar affected a Japanese American family from Los Angeles and a Caucasian union organizer. The film, released in 1990, starred Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita, and was written and directed by Alan Parker.
The 1994 award-winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson contains many scenes and details relating to Japanese Americans from the Puget Sound, Washington, area and their internment experiences at Manzanar, as does the 2000 film based on the book.
Fort Minor's song Kenji, from the album The Rising Tied (2005), tells the true story of Mike Shinoda's family and their experiences before, during, and after World War II, including their imprisonment at Manzanar.
The Asian American jazz fusion band Hiroshima has a song entitled "Manzanar" on its album The Bridge (2003). It is an instrumental song inspired by Manzanar and the Japanese American Internment. Also, its song "Living In America", on its album entitled East (1990), contains the phrase "I still remember Manzanar" in its lyrics.
A 2007 episode of the CBS television crime drama Cold Case titled "Family 8108" dealt with the 1945 murder of a Japanese American man in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after he and his family were released from Manzanar. The episode originally aired on December 9, 2007.
Folk/country musician Tom Russell wrote "Manzanar", a song about the Japanese American internment that was released on his album, Box of Visions (1993). Laurie Lewis covered the song on her album Seeing Things (1998), adding the Japanese string instrument, the koto, to her performance.