Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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Community Government

Under the WCCA. Within ten days after the first evacuees arrived at Manzanar on March 21, the first of a number of temporary "Block Leaders" were appointed by WCCA administrators. [36] The Block Leader was envisioned as a "combined boarding-house manager and liaison officer." It was intended that "he would represent the people [of his block] on a community council, that he would see that the tenants got along peacefully together, that the plumber and electrician were called when needed and that toilet paper and mops were provided as required." He would explain and interpret to the residents the policies and regulations of the administration and bring to the administration "a knowledge of the problems of the people."

Duties and responsibilities of Block Leaders, as well as a definition of their place in the community, were to be more fully defined in a "constitution." A draft document was prepared by evacuee committees and was sent to evacuees in another assembly center for comment. However, the document was never finalized "due to a change in policy after the WRA took over."

On April 13 qualified residents of each occupied block were called into meetings to nominate, by secret ballot, three candidates for the position of Block Leader. From these nominations a staff committee selected the Block Leader and an alternate for six-month terms. The selections were announced to the camp on April 22. Other blocks, as they filled with evacuees, had nominee elections. Suffrage was allowed both aliens and citizens who had attained the age of 21.

Representatives of the WCCA administration "bowed to the Japanese respect for age and in the majority of cases" selected as Block Leaders "older people, who were, by that fact, aliens and in many cases non-English speaking people." The Final Report, Manzanar observed that although "most of the previously acknowledged alien leaders in Japanese communities had been interned by the Justice Department at the outbreak of the war, these first Block Leaders appear to have been capable persons."

During the first two months of Manzanar's existence, the Block Leaders operated "without formal organization." Nevertheless, as a group they established a $45 loan fund through contributions, recommended that the police give protection to children playing ball in living areas, considered the problem of whether the Japanese custom of presenting monetary gifts to bereaved families should be maintained in an assembly or reception center, and brought pressure upon the administration for a Japanese-language edition of the Manzanar Free Press and for the immediate payment of wages to employed evacuees. The administration asked the Block Leaders for help in easing the growing tensions between Nisei and Kibei and deferred several other problems until the constitution could be completed.

During the early days of Manzanar's history, the Information Office had been established to aid the new evacuees in making adjustments to camp life. After the arrival of the first large group of evacuees at Manzanar on March 23, the administration building had been swamped by evacuees, seeking answers to questions concerning their new life. Two evacuees, Roy Takeno and Dave Itami, saw the need for facilities to provide the information sought by the evacuees. Their plan for such an organization was accepted by Camp Manager C. E. Triggs, and on March 25 the first Information Office was opened in Block I, Building 9, Apartment I. Under the WCCA, the Information Service was attached to the Service Division under the direction of J. M. Kidwell, who planned to organize one Information Office for every 1,500 residents. Six offices were ultimately established. [37]

The principal function of the Information Service during its early days was to act as an intermediary between camp management and the residents "by relaying information and instructions on behalf of the management to the residents, and by relaying complaints and suggestions on behalf of the residents to the management so that the latter may be able to improve facilities or remedy any shortcomings, if they had merits for consideration." This included handling complaints and taking applications for employment; issuance and posting of bulletins in both English and Japanese; writing letters in English for elderly Japanese who spoke little or no English; conducting a lost and found department; and operating a Voluntary Service Corps to aid evacuees in getting settled.

As arrival of large groups of evacuees occurred during the early period, the Voluntary Service Corps was organized by the Information Service. This corps consisted of young men who aided newly-arrived evacuees in carrying their baggage, and guided them to their assigned quarters. By the end of May, this Corps had reached an enrollment of 450. [38]

With the emergence of the Block Leaders, the similar and sometimes overlapping functions of the Block Leaders and the Information Office, began to create problems for WCCA administrators. The Information Office, staffed primarily with Nisei young people many of whom were early volunteers, had organized more quickly and at first provided better service than did the older people, most of whom were Issei, in the Block Leaders offices. As a result of their efforts, many of the information clerks and leaders were viewed as community leaders by the evacuees. Nevertheless, when the Block Leaders and other sections of the center administration were able to assume the functions of the Information Office, the WCCA began steps to dissolve its organization. Many of its personnel, however, which reached a peak of 50 in six offices, went to the Block Leaders' organizations where they served as assistants.

Under the WRA. When the WRA assumed administrative control of Manzanar on June 1, it found that "individual and group insecurity had grown rather than lessened," thus undermining support for community self-government. The rising insecurity, according to Merritt, was due to "growing apprehensions of residents for their status as detainees, and accentuated by the construction of a barbed-wire fence to enclose the living quarters and watch towers with search lights constantly flashing over the Center at night" "failure of the Administration to settle on a wage policy and to provide furnishings for apartments that had been promised," and the "loss of status" felt by each "authoritative family head" when his wife and children were no longer dependent on him for their living. The change of center personnel and management policy brought by the WRA on June 1 heightened "the feeling of insecurity of the evacuees and brought into focus the difference in status of citizen children and alien parents which lead [sic] to the subsequent struggle for power and control."

When the WRA took over administration or Manzanar, the Block Leaders did not have the general respect of many evacuees. Many evacuees felt that the Block Leaders were mere "stooges" or "messenger boys for the administration," because they were appointed by the administrative staff. Residents failed to understand the limitations of the Community Council which then consisted of 36 individuals. Although it was understood that the council was to have a say in the government of the community, its position was "purely advisory." Yet the evacuee population of the camp tended to blame the council for the failure of the administration to immediately satisfy the demands and meet the pressing needs of the camp residents. Thus, it became the aim of the WRA to raise the prestige of the Block Leader.

In a June 5 memorandum addressed to all Project Directors, the Director of the WRA outlined in detail the plans for temporary self-government to be established as soon as possible in each relocation center. This temporary government was intended to be a laboratory for testing of evacuee ability and of WRA social ideals, and it was felt that this form of government would not only serve to educate evacuees in the workings of government but would also demonstrate the degree of ability of evacuees in self-government. [39] Each center would have a "Community Council" composed of American citizens elected by American citizens. The council would have no power to enact ordinances; rather it would make recommendations to the Project Director on matters relating to health, welfare, recreation, education, and other matters relating to center operations. Within the council, an executive committee of from five to seven members would consult with the Project Director on resolutions and recommendations of the council. A judicial committee was prescribed, but the executive committee might also serve in this capacity. This committee would cooperate with the Project Director in dealing with disturbances of the peace and law and order issues. Other committees, as deemed necessary, could be established by the council.

The prohibition of aliens from elective positions did not appear realistic to many evacuees or to staff members, because "the oldest people among the evacuee group had always carried the greatest responsibility." Merritt later elaborated on this issue in the Final Report, Manzanar:

.... Among the Japanese, all authority reposes in the family head and on his death, in the oldest son. With this in mind, it is easy to understand the respect for age that has grown up among the Japanese people. Very few of the citizens had reached an age which demanded respect- in a Japanese community. At Manzanar, no Nisei male was over 54 years of age and only eight were over 50. Forty-four more were between 39 and 50. While it is frequently mentioned that two-thirds of the Japanese group are American citizens, it is seldom noted that at Manzanar, at least, only 14 percent of the group were citizens of 25 years or older.

Accordingly, Project Director Nash "made no general announcement of this temporary policy excluding aliens from participation in community government because he feared the effect it might have and because he hoped for a change in the rulings of the Washington Office." Meanwhile, elections for Block Leaders at Manzanar continued to include alien voters and office holders.

Ignoring the directives from WRA headquarters, Nash convened in mid-June 1942 the existing Block Leaders at Manzanar, many of whom were Issei, "as a temporary Community Council." Representing Nash, the Assistant Project Director led the meeting, pointing "out the aims and the problems of the Project as a whole" and discussing "the significance of the contributions which the Block Leaders could make to a successful self-government program." The Assistant Director outlined the duties of the Block Leaders, which included responsibility for looking after the welfare of each individual in the block, seeing that all block facilities, such as kitchens, mess halls, wash rooms, and latrines, operated satisfactorily, distributing supplies and mail, supervising night checkers who were responsible for government property, and taking a nightly population count The Block Leaders voted unanimously to accept their responsibilities. In turn, they were to be placed on a full-time work basis as of June 15. At their first meeting, the Block Leaders agreed with the Assistant Project Director that, for the time being, at least, the administration would continue to appoint Block Leaders. Later, in the same meeting, however, they reconsidered and directed the chairman to ask the Project Director that "elections be democratically conducted and the persons receiving the largest number of votes be named Block Leaders without selection by the management." The request was approved, and after June 19, Block Leaders were selected following that procedure. Suffrage was continued for men and women of 21 years of age and over. Several weeks later, however, in response to pressure from younger Nisei, the age limit was lowered to 18, although Nisei had asked that it be dropped to 16.

Direct election of Block Leaders by the evacuees increased the prestige of the office. Greater interest was shown in the elections, and average voting participation increased from 44 to 87 percent during the summer of 1942.

The final democratization of the Block Leader selection process took place in mid-August, when direct elections were held to fill these positions in Blocks 1-6 and 9-12. Prior to the elections, these blocks had been represented by leaders chosen under the system of appointment by the camp administration. New leaders were also chosen in four other blocks. [40] The election results showed a great deal of volatility among the evacuees. With 1,935 out of 2,422 eligible voters going to the polls, eleven new block leaders were elected, while only three of the ten incumbents being reelected. [41]

Regardless of continuing criticism, the Block Leaders had sufficient support to consolidate their position, assume duties formerly conducted by the Information Office, and increase the personnel of their offices. While they did not receive approval from all residents, their leadership was accepted by most evacuees.

On June 26 the Assistant Project Director informed the Block Leaders that he was planning a trip to the WRA Regional Office in San Francisco "to do everything he could to obtain a review of the proposed policy that aliens could not hold elective office." This was the first semi-public announcement of the WRA policy, and the Block Leaders were led to believe that the provision would be changed. The constitutional committee, in fact, was proceeding under the belief that the provision would be altered.

By July 20, however, the WRA policy remained unchanged, prompting Project Director Nash to write the Regional Director that the Issei had not been permitted to become citizens. Among the aliens at Manzanar were "strong characters of conservative, sober judgment, who have been of untold help to the administration in every crisis where cool heads were in demand." To disenfranchise this group or prevent them from holding office "would cause more dissension in Manzanar than almost any one decision that could be made."

The Block Leaders, under the direction of the camp administration, continued to meet as a representative council. The council consisted of "17 aliens" and "10 citizens." Not until September 4, however, would the evacuee population be aware of the limitations placed upon the franchise of aliens by WRA headquarters in Washington. When the evacuees became aware of this WRA policy, a storm of protest was triggered which will be detailed in Chapter 11 of this study.

Meanwhile the temporary council (although beset by a variety of divisive issues that will be examined in Chapter 11 of this study) continued to hold weekly meetings during the summer of 1942, dealing with issues related to day-to-day living problems in the camp. These issues included concerns over the selection of men to staff the police department, recruitment of labor for the camouflage net factory project, failure of the administration to provide furniture for evacuee quarters, the wage scale, and the desirability and need for a clothing allowance.

Late in June, the council elected a chairman and an executive board from among its members. The board was to meet with and advise the Project Director on significant problems facing the evacuees, but these meetings never took place.

The council prepared, and the administration approved, a proposal to establish a judicial committee to be comprised of three appointed staff members and three evacuee members. The evacuees were to be elected from the center at large by the residents. The committee would be advisory in nature and final action was the responsibility of the Project Director. The committee was to study traffic regulations and rules governing the behavior of evacuees within the center and to hear minor cases of disturbance of the peace. All offenses against state and federal government statutes would be referred to the appropriate outside authorities.

Administrative Instruction No. 34, dated August 24, 1942, instructed each of the relocation center project directors to immediately establish community councils of citizen representatives in accordance with the director's memorandum of June 5, until regular community government could be established. The project directors were instructed to appoint commissions to prepare a plan for community evacuee government for each center "in accordance with the controlling provisions of this instruction." The instruction outlined the duties of a council of representatives to be elected by persons 18 years of age and over. Elected representatives had to be 21 years of age and citizens of the United States. Only American citizens could hold office, but aliens could vote and serve in appointive positions. Actions of the council would be subject to veto by the project directors. The plan of government included a judicial committee or commission to hear cases and apply penalties for violation of laws and regulations prescribed by the council, but its decisions were subject to review by the project directors. Although private enterprise had been forbidden within the centers, the plan provided for licensing evacuee businesses by a newly-created charter commission. Aliens were eligible for membership only on the judicial committee and other appointive boards and commissions established by the council.

In accordance with the administrative instruction, Project Director Nash, on September 30, appointed a 17-man commission to draw up a charter of community government for Manzanar. His appointments were made after consultation with staff members and evacuees. The commission immediately drew up a charter, although its work was limited to describing the electoral districts, provisions for recall, definition of a quorum, naming of time and place of meetings, provisions for filling vacancies, and voting procedures. Duties and responsibilities of the council, as well as eligibility for office holding, were denned in accordance with the WRA's administrative instruction.

Meanwhile, the Block Leaders were called into special meeting on September 30. Looking forward to establishment of the new community government, it was suggested that the temporary council be dissolved and they resign as Block Leaders and accept assignment as Block Managers. The new assignment would carry no representative or legislative authority or responsibility. The Block Leaders approved these recommendations unanimously.

The Block Managers, with the knowledge of the administration continued to meet and discuss center problems during October and November. Responding to mounting tensions in the center, they called for and obtained an explanation of the distribution of sugar; recommended that the charter include a provision for removal of inefficient and dishonest appointed personnel; requested evacuee representation at administrative staff meetings; and adopted a proposal that evacuee representatives should review the financial records of the center administration. By late November the camp administration had largely ignored the demands of the Block Managers, thus contributing to declining morale of the evacuee population and deteriorating relationships between the evacuees and the administration.

During the course of these events, the charter commission approved the charter in early October and designated November 9 as the date on which the charter would be voted upon by the evacuee population at Manzanar. The charter, with introductory notes, was mimeographed in English and Japanese and released as an "instrument of self-government." Early reaction to the charter was not favorable, and it appeared likely that it would be rejected. As a result, the commission resigned, and the election was postponed by the camp administration. Instead, an election for a committee consisting of two men from each block was held on November 22 to undertake further work on the charter in the hope that this would gain additional support before a final community government charter was submitted to the people. Any person over 18 years of age was eligible to vote in this election and to serve on the committee. Among the reasons given for the postponement of the voting on the charter were questions relating to licensing of private business, restrictions against the Issei, and fears that Japan might object if Japanese subjects contributed to their own government under the circumstances, as well as to allow time for the return of the 1/000 residents on seasonal farmwork furlough. [42]

The results of the election on November 22 were announced in the Manzanar Free Press on November 28. It was noted that a wide-ranging series of reactions to the election had occurred. Of the 35 blocks voting, two recorded no votes, and two recorded sentiments of outright disapproval of the charter. A fifth block postponed the election. Blocks showing fairly good response were Blocks 9, 23, 1, 17, and 19. [43]

In late November the representatives elected on November 22 met with the new Manzanar director, Ralph P. Merritt to discuss a community government plan. Of the 60 representatives elected, only 33 attended. The tone of their general attitude toward the proposed charter was exhibited when a vote was taken on the charter. Of the 33 delegates, one voted in favor of the charter. In the ensuing discussions, the lone supporter, Fred Tayama, a prominent pro-American Nisei who had been an active JACL member before evacuation, was subjected to vigorous questioning. When the meeting broke up, a unanimous vote against the charter was recorded. [44]

The final meeting of block representatives was held on December 3, 1942, with Merritt, to discuss the formation of a charter for community government. In this meeting Merritt proposed three recommendations for consideration by the evacuee representatives: (1) that the charter as it stood be accepted by them and be voted upon by the residents of the center; (2) that with minor changes within the limits of WRA policies, the charter be determined acceptable; and (3) that, even with revisions and additions, the charter be deemed unacceptable and not be submitted to the residents. Merritt stated that should the third view prevail, ". . . it is up to me as Project Director to state the terms on how we should live together." The meeting produced no action other than a statement that, following further study of the charter and WRA instructions, the representatives would meet with Merritt on December 10. [45]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002