Building a Prison Camp in the High Desert

Following the signing of Executive Order 9066, many Japanese Americans families were given less than two weeks notice, sometimes less than one week, to vacate their homes and abandon their lives.

Immediately after the forced removal from their homes, they were temporarily held in the euphemistically termed “assembly centers.” In what consisted of little more than an animal stable or storage facility, these temporary detention centers were an interim site while the purportedly more developed “relocation centers, or prison camps, were under construction.

Planning of the prison camps was done by the War Relocation Authority beginning in spring of 1942. The first camp to be constructed was Manzanar. In Idaho, Morrison-Knudsen started construction at Minidoka, but most of the buildings were not completed before the incarcerees arrived. The barracks were hastily built, the green wood used for the structures shrank and did not protect people from the elements or prying eyes.

Nationally, 120,000 Japanese Americans lived in exceedingly sub-par housing conditions, including 13,000 at Minidoka. The government used incarcerees as underpaid labor in the completion of the prison they were going to occupy. Imagine being told by your government to build your own incarceration site.

Last updated: September 3, 2019

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