TwHP Lessons

The War Relocation Centers of World War II: When Fear was Stronger than Justice

[Photo] Manzanar Relocation Center, with Mount Williamson in the Background
(National Park Service, Jeffery Burton, photographer)

It all happened so quickly. The Japanese on the West Coast of the United States had made lives for themselves in spite of discrimination, but on December 7, 1941, everything changed. To panicked people after the attack on Pearl Harbor, every Japanese could be a potential spy, ready and willing to assist in an invasion that was expected at any moment. Many political leaders, army officers, newspaper reporters, and ordinary people came to believe that everyone of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens born in the United States, needed to be removed from the West Coast.

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that moved nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans into 10 isolated relocation centers in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The temporary, tar paper-covered barracks, the guard towers, and most of the barbed-wire fences are gone now, but the people who spent years of their lives in the centers will never forget them.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. The South Pacific in 1942
 2. War Relocation Centers in the U.S.

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Fear!
 2. "To All Persons of Japanese Ancestry...."
 3. Life in the Relocation Centers

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Residential block layouts
 2. Evacuees arriving, Manzanar, 1942
 3. Residential block, Rowher, 1943
 4. Typical barracks room, Manzanar, 1942
 5. Mess hall, Manzanar, 1942
 6. Remains of security fence, Manzanar
 7. Manzanar, with Mt. Williamson in the
 Background, 1942

 8. Monument to the Men of the 100th
 Battalion/442nd Combat Team,
 Rohwer Memorial

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The Rights of Citizens
 2. Being There
 3. Reactions
 4. Lest We Forget

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Manzanar National Historic Site

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This lesson is based on the Manzanar War Relocation Center and the Rowher Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery, two of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Both properties have been designated National Historic Landmarks.



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