Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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In response to the rising movement for ethnic identification and sensitivity on college and university campuses during the late 1960s, a group of Los Angeles-based college students organized a pilgrimage to Manzanar in late December 1969. According to one writer, most of the 250 participants were "Asian students who were curious about the camp and unable to get their parents to talk about life there." [49] As a result of the renewed interest in Manzanar, the Manzanar Committee was soon established under the leadership of Sue Kunitomi Embrey, a Los Angeles school teacher who had been evacuated to Manzanar as an 18-year-old high school graduate on May 9, 1942. She had resided in the relocation center until October 6, 1943, when she relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, under the sponsorship of the YWCA. While at Manzanar, Embrey had helped the Maryknoll Sisters to organize a school in the center, worked in the camouflage net factory, and served as a roving reporter and later as managing editor of the Manzanar Free Press. [50]

When it was established, the Manzanar Committee had a two-fold purpose — public education concerning the historic significance of the Manzanar site and establishment of Manzanar as a state historic landmark. Annual pilgrimages to the Manzanar site have continued to be sponsored by the committee to the present time (since 1973 the pilgrimages have generally taken place on the last Saturday of April). Each pilgrimage has featured a commemorative ceremony at the Manzanar Cemetery, followed by a picnic and clean-up efforts at the site. [51]

In late 1971 the Manzanar Committee applied to the California State Department of Parks and Recreation to declare Manzanar as a state historic site, noting that the site "recreates" for many Japanese Americans "that moment in their lives when all the world was enclosed within this one-mile square." In January 1972, the Department of Parks and Recreation designated Manzanar as California Registered Historic Landmark No. 850, and a 4.33-acre area, including the two rock sentry houses at the entrance to the former relocation center in addition to the cemetery and adjacent parking area, were leased by the LADWP to the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League for the historical landmark. [52]

During ceremonies attended by some 1,500 people at the fourth pilgrimage on April 14, 1973, a plaque was placed on the rock sentry house nearest the highway by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League. The plaque was installed by Ryozo F. Kado, an 83-year-old Issei who as an evacuee resident at Manzanar had supervised the two rock sentry houses and cemetery monument. For the occasion, Kado reassembled his seven-man evacuee crew.

The Manzanar Committee's fourth pilgrimage and the ceremonies associated with the installation of the plaque were significant in that they "represented the culmination" of more than a year of heated "negotiations with the State Department of Recreation and Parks." The negotiations had involved "torrid controversies over whether such terms as 'concentration camps' and 'racism' ought to be engraved on the plaque which was to make Manzanar a California Historical Landmark." On three occasions, representatives of the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League traveled to Sacramento in an attempt to get their wording accepted by state officials. After the state found other words, such as "hysteria" and "greed," objectionable, the Manzanar Committee enlisted "community support" in "the form of letters and petitions." State Assemblymen Alex Garcia, whose district included "Little Tokyo," Ralph Dillis, whose Gardena district included many Japanese Americans, State Senator Mervyn Dymally of Los Angeles, and Assembly Speaker Robert Moretti entered the fray on the side of the Japanese American groups. After a stormy 90-minute confrontation with William Penn Mott, the Director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation who would later become Director of the National Park Service, a compromise was worked out. Under its terms, the state would write the first paragraph on the plaque. The second paragraph, to be written by the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League, declared Manzanar to be the first of 10 such concentration camps confining 10,000 persons bounded within barbed wire and guard towers. The third paragraph incorporated compromise language, allowing the state to include wartime "hysteria" as a contributing element to the government's evacuation program and the Japanese to blame evacuation and relocation on "racism and economic exploitation." The final wording of the plaque, which would continue to remain the focus of controversy, stated:

In the early part of World War II, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by Executive Order No. 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.

Manzanar, the first of ten such concentration camps, was bounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 10,000 persons, the majority being American citizens.

May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation never emerge again. [53]

In 1974 the California Assembly passed House Resolution No. 135 directing the state Department of Parks and Recreation to study the feasibility of acquiring and developing a plan "for the acquisition and preservation of a portion of Manzanar Internment Camp as an historical unit of the state park system." The resolution read in part:

WHEREAS. A shameful chapter in American history was written during World War II, when thousands of American citizens were locked up in concentration camps without a trial — their only crime being that they were born of Japanese ancestry; and

WHEREAS, Because of the trauma caused by the disaster at Pearl Harbor, reason was driven from the minds of many American people, and liberals and conservatives alike demanded the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans without trial; and

WHEREAS, One of the most notorious of the concentration camps was Manzanar near the town of Lone Pine; and

WHEREAS, Rather than allowing Manzanar, and what it stood for, to fade into the forgotten past, a portion of it ought to be preserved and restored to monument of what can happen in America to Americans. . . . [54]

On September 16, 1974, the Department of Parks and Recreation released its mandated report entitled, Manzanar: Feasibility Study. The study noted that the "historic significance of the internment camp of the Japanese Americans can certainly be regarded as a notable aspect of U.S. history in relation to mass wartime psychology as exemplified by the public and official reaction to the presence of Japanese populations in America at the outbreak of World War II." The "fact that 10,000 Japanese Americans were forced to live at Manzanar, their Constitutional rights denied, is a sad chapter in U.S. and California history." Accordingly, the study found that the "entire formerly enclosed 495-acre camp area, plus cemetery, is necessary for an adequate interpretation of the Manzanar story." Since the City of Los Angeles "values this land only for its water rights," it "should be feasible to transfer the land to the State Park System at no cost to the state.

According to the study, the "primary purpose of this project would be historic interpretation." A supplemental purpose "would be development of a garden with structures for shelter." This facility "would provide former inmates solace, the general community an opportunity to reflect and focus on the area's history, and the traveler a resting place." Commercialism was not "intended," and interpretation would "project the story of Manzanar objectively" This would "be accomplished in reconstructed evacuee barracks," and a citizen's advisory committee would be established to assist the state in the interpretive effort. A "road would be reconstructed through the camp following former road patterns to the cemetery just outside the rear boundary," and the "entire camp area would be fenced with barbed wire to control access, which will help reduce the vandalism potential and impart more of the original camp feeling." Physical remains throughout the camp site, "such as foundations, roads, gardens, and trees, would also be interpreted, but not restored." There was "a possibility that one guard tower could be reconstructed." [55]

The efforts by the Department of Parks and Recreation to establish a state historical park at Manzanar faced considerable opposition throughout the 1970s. In 1979, for instance, organizers for a reunion of former Manzanar farmers and community residents sent a letter to the department protesting the proposed development at the Manzanar site which would focus exclusively on the relocation center period. [56]

On March 7, 1979, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., protesting the proposed plan as "costly, unnecessary and totally unacceptable to the area residents." The Chamber of Commerce could "anticipate nothing "but bad feelings and enmity resulting from the implementation of such a plan." The Chamber of Commerce had "very strong feelings regarding the aesthetics and safety factors" of the plan, and the "pioneer history of the Manzanar area speaks for itself and does not require keying in on 3 1/2 short years for its claim to fame or infamy as the case may be." [57]

Native American groups also protested "the projected plan to construct the site for a memorial park to commemorate the limited time Japanese Americans were restricted at Manzanar. On March 12, 1979, a group of Owens Valley Tribal Elders wrote to Inyo County Supervisor Wilma Muth:

We want to point the fact that Indians have a definite history in this Valley . . . .

. . . We want to mention a painful memory of our people when a great number of our ancestors were slaughtered along the way through and near Manzanar at the hands of the U.S. Government while being driven south on foot to an unknown destination, the valley is sprinkled with the blood and bones of our ancestors. [58]

During subsequent years, Manzanar and the government's evacuation and relocation policies during World War II became topics of considerable debate both at the national and the state and local levels of government. On February 19, 1976, for instance, President Gerald R. Ford rescinded Executive Order 9066, issued by President Roosevelt 34 years before. [59] In his proclamation, Ford noted: "We know now what we should have known then: not only was [the] evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans." [60]

In 1977, the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board declared Manzanar a City Historic Landmark. On July 30, 1976, the "Manzanar War Relocation Center" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In February 1985, Manzanar was designated as a National Historic Landmark. [61]

As Manzanar was gaining recognition as a historic site deserving preservation and interpretation, the federal government moved toward admission that the evacuation and relocation programs during World War II had been errors. In 1980, for instance, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to review the circumstances surrounding Executive Order 9066 and its impact on American citizens, as well as aliens, and to recommend remedies. The commission conducted lengthy hearings and published its findings in a report, entitled Personal Justice Denied, in 1982. On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into legislation a bill providing a review of convictions and pardons of crimes for noncooperation with various facets of the evacuation program, as well as payment of $20,000 to each surviving individual who was evacuated and relocated under Executive Order 9066. The legislation established the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and a board to administer its activities. While the Japanese American community remained divided over whether redress went far enough, the move to establish Manzanar as a historic site was seen by some observers to "offer an opportunity for education and enlightenment that could go a long way toward healing this still-open wound." [62]

During the weekend of August 31 - September 1, 1991, the third Manzanar All Camp Reunion was held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. The reunion planning committee was chaired by Sue Kunitomi Embrey. The theme for the weekend was "The Lost Years Reclaimed - 1942-45." In a foreword to the reunion booklet, Wilbur Sato observed:

Those years spent in concentration camps were our lost years, but in another sense, those years were also lost to generations of Americans who remain unaware of the injustice inflicted upon us.

In the past, we remained silent, repressing the rage, the guilt and the pain. We tried to forget, but the memories always struggled for expression; the ghosts of the lost years always struggled to be free.

In past reunions, we honored courageous caucasian men and women who fought for our rights and offered kindness and support. They told our story through their observations. It is time now to tell our own stories, to relive those experiences.

The Manzanar Reunion this year will have a new image and more urgent and focused goals. This year we will share our personal experiences with all who will listen. We will present speakers and seminars focusing on the lost years. We will have photo displays, videos and exhibits. Our speakers will be Japanese Americans. We will find our own unique voices.

We will reclaim the lost years and free the ghosts to haunt our sacred ground. This we will do to promote justice, freedom and brotherhood for all Americans and for all mankind. [63]

Despite the increasing recognition of its significance, nothing was done to preserve and interpret the Manzanar site. Thus, the surviving buildings and landscape features at the site continued to deteriorate from neglect, weather, and the activities of pot-hunters, although the Manzanar Committee attempted to tend the cemetery and clean the area during its annual pilgrimages. After visiting the site in 1991, John Cox, a 16-year-old prospective Eagle Scout from Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, determined to clean up the area and the rock sentry buildings at the entrance to the former relocation center as a community service project. Thus, a group of about 20 scouts from Northridge Troop 99 led by Cox, along with some parents and National Park Service employees, spent the Memorial Day weekend of 1992 in clearing trash from the site and repairing the two structures, fixing roofs, nailing plywood on the doors, and sealing the windows with plastic sheets. [64]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002