SIGNIFICANCE OF MANZANAR WAR RELOCATION CENTER
Manzanar was the first of ten relocation centers established for "national security" purposes by the United States government in 1942, following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and America's subsequent formal entrance into World War II. Removed to these centers were some 117,000 U.S. resident Japanese Americans, approximately one-third of whom were law-abiding Japanese aliens (Issei) denied U. S. citizenship and two-thirds U.S. citizens (preponderantly second-generation Nisei, but also some third-generation Sansei and even a few fourth-generation Yonsei). Located in barren desert area of Owens Valley in eastern California's Inyo County, the Manzanar site had been utilized by the Paiute and Shoshone Indians for centuries. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Euro-American settlers had moved into the area and established ranches, and during the period roughly spanning the years between the early 1910s and the mid-1930s a small Euro-American fruit-growing settlement named Manzanar (Spanish for "apple orchard") had been established.
The Manzanar camp was established initially by the U.S. Army as an assembly or reception center and managed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) as the Owens Valley Reception Center from March 21 through May 31, 1942. On June 1, 1942, Manzanar was transferred to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), and renamed the Manzanar War Relocation Center. As a WCCA unit, Manzanar had one project director (Clayton Triggs) and two acting directors (Solon Kimball and Harvey Coverley).
In its relocation center phase, extending to its closure on November 21, 1945, Manzanar's two directors were Roy Nash (until November 24, 1942) and Ralph P. Merritt. The overwhelming majority of the camp's peak population of 10,121 (nearly equally divided between male and female with one-quarter of them school-age children) were drawn from prewar Japanese communities in Los Angeles County particularly the City of Los Angeles.
Situated on some 6,000 acres of land leased from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the evacuee living area consisted of nearly one-square-mile expanse dominated by 36 blocks of tar-paper barracks, most of the residents living in spartan conditions in 20-foot by 25-foot overcrowded apartments. This area encompassed communal mess halls, laundry facilities, and latrines for each block, as well as considerably upgraded living facilities for the WRA appointed personnel. Additionally, it contained a hospital, school, church, recreational, and cultural facilities, a cooperative store, and other necessary amenities found in a "normal" American city of comparable size. Also in this central evacuee living area were war-related industries (e.g., a camouflage net factory), an experimental plantation for producing natural rubber from the guayule plant, various shops that produced a variety of goods, and a Children's Village orphanage.
Immediately outside the evacuee living area were agriculturally developed lands, enabling Manzanar to become largely self-sufficient in vegetables, meat, and poultry products, augment the other WRA camps' food supplies, and generate limited revenue for the Manzanar center in open-market sales. The camp's core evacuee living area was surrounded by barbed wire and overlooked by eight guard towers manned by military police, who were quartered a half-mile south of the Manzanar center.
Although relative peace generally prevailed within the center, evacuee resistance to unpopular administrative policies manifested as work slowdowns and strikes as well as through cultural political action and non-compliance with regulations was not uncommon. The most dramatic incident of resistance occurred on December 6, 1942. Sparked by the jailing of the Mess Hall Workers' Union's head (Harry Ueno) for beating an evacuee (Fred Tayama) prominent in the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), whose leaders were widely assumed by evacuees to be informers and collaborators with the WRA administrators and federal investigative and law enforcement agencies, the "Manzanar Riot" climaxed in the death of two evacuees and the wounding of ten others by military police-firearms. Its aftermath involved the roundup and ultimate imprisonment (without formal charges or hearings) of Ueno and other suspect "pro-Japanese" advocates and camp "troublemakers" in isolation centers in Moab, Utah, and Leupp, Arizona, and the "protective custody" consignment to the abandoned Cow Creek Civilian Conservation Corps camp in nearby Death Valley National Monument of JACL and allied "pro-American" spokespersons and their families.
A more pervasive and protracted show of resistance was set in motion two months later, in February 1943, when the Army and the WRA imposed a mandatory registration on the adult population of Manzanar and the other centers for the joint purpose of establishing eligibility for leave clearance and securing volunteers for a special Japanese American army combat unit. At Manzanar, only 42 persons (approximately 2 percent of the eligible citizen males) volunteered for military service, while approximately 50 percent of all male citizens and 45 percent of all female citizens either answered "no" to the so-called loyalty questions on the registration questionnaire or refused to answer the questions. The latter situation led to the transfer of nearly 2,200 evacuees from Manzanar to the WRA's newly-established Tule Lake Segregation Center in northern California during late 1943 and early 1944.
With the departure of its "disloyals" to Tule Lake (along with expatriates and repatriates to Japan) and an increasing number of its "loyals" entering the military (following the reinstitution of selective service for Japanese Americans in January 1944) and resettling throughout the United States as war workers and college students, Manzanar became a community largely of elderly and youthful residents. Notwithstanding limited self-government and an improved physical appearance and social ambience, Manzanar retained constant reminders of forcible confinement. Its residents were not free to leave, its newspaper (Manzanar Free Press) was censored, and its barbed wire boundaries patrolled by armed military police.
Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002