Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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The National Park Service studied the Manzanar War Relocation Center as part of several studies authorized by Public Law 95-348, approved on August 18, 1978. That law established the American Memorial Park on Saipan and the War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam. In addition, the law directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of other areas and sites associated with the Pacific Campaign of World War II. As part of the overall response to the congressional directive to recommend landmarks on the subject of the Pacific Campaign, the National Park Service conducted studies of the relocation centers and found Manzanar "to be the one site of greatest significance and greatest integrity amongst all of the 10." Thus, the former relocation center site was designated a National Historic Landmark in February 1985. Later in February 1989, the National Park Service conducted an management alternatives study for the preservation and interpretation of Manzanar. and one of the alternatives that was explored was establishment of the relocation site as a National Historic Site.

On January 16, 1991, California Congressman Mel Levine introduced a bill (H.R. 543) to "establish the Manzanar National Historic Site." Co-sponsors of the legislation were California Congressmen William M. Thomas, Norman Y. Mineta, and Robert T. Matsui. Similar legislation had been introduced late in 1990, but had died in committee. On May 15, 1991, California Congressman George Miller (along with 19 co-sponsors) introduced a bill (H.R. 2351) to "authorize a study of nationally significant places in Japanese American history."

A hearing on the two bills was held before the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs on May 21, 1991, in Washington, D. C. In his opening statement, Congressman Levine observed:

As the 1989 National Park Service feasibility study of Manzanar points out, the 500-acre [the legislation's reference to 500 acres was based on approximate, pre survey estimates of the area contained in the proposed boundary map referenced in the legislation. Subsequent detailed surveys by LADWP have shown the authorized area to be 555 acres.] site is rich in history, and I expect that the Park Service and the Advisory Commission will make every effort to develop and interpret the full history of the site from its earliest Native American inhabitants to the present.

. . . . it is my hope that Manzanar will serve as a reminder of the grievous errors and inhumane policies we pursued domestically during World War II and a reminder that we must never again allow such actions to occur in this country.

In his opening remarks, Congressman Miller urged the committee to favorably report "H.R. 2351, the Japanese-American National Historic Landmark Theme Study Act" which "complements the Levine bill." The bill directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a "National Historic Landmark theme study of the key sites that illustrate the internment period of Japanese-American history." The bill directed the secretary to study the relocation camps, excluding Manzanar, "as well as additional sites and recommend whether or not they should be designated National Historic Landmarks."

Jerry Rogers, the National Park Service Associate Director for Cultural Resources, testified at the hearing, recommending passage of H.R. 543. He noted:

We believe, as Members have already stated, that this aspect of American history is extremely significant should be properly interpreted for the benefit of the public and that that benefit is precisely to assure against that type of error in the future. . . .

I personally found when I was at the site that the most evocative feature of the site is the extensive remains of landscaping work, stone walkways, planting beds, walls, and modified landforms that had been done by the internees in an effort to beautify and make more comfortable their harsh desert environment. I also believe that the almost transient nature of the remaining resources, that is to say, of the camp itself, the buildings gone, the remnants remaining blown over by sand — I find in that a metaphor for this whole point of this being a lesson, but not something we want to be prominent in American society — a lesson that we can learn from. . . . .

. . . we also would like to emphasize. . . . that we would intend only minimum development at the National Historic Site if it were authorized, and we would instruct our planners that there would be no reconstruction, in whole or in part, of the fencing, the guard tower or barracks and no attempt to recreate the scene that has disappeared. In our opinion, the authenticity of the site speaks far more powerfully than anything we could create by building imitations of the historic buildings that were there or by moving in some buildings that have been taken away.

In addition to Rogers, other witnesses who testified in favor the bills were California Congressmen Mineta and Thomas; Sue Embrey, president of the Manzanar Committee; Hiroshi Takusagawa, a volunteer and original member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team representing the National Japanese-American Historical Society; Paul Morrisson, assistant county administrator, Inyo County; Rose Matsui Ochi, executive assistant, Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles; William Yoshimo, national director, Japanese-American Citizens League; and David Simon, representing the National Parks and Conservation Association. [65]

On June 24, 1991, the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs reported favorably on H.R.543 with amendments and recommended that the bill, as amended, be enacted into legislation. As amended, H.R. 543 and H.R. 2351 were incorporated into a revised version of H.R. 543. Title I of the bill provided for establishment of Manzanar National Historic Site, and Title II provided that the National Park Service would undertake a two-year "Japanese American National Historic Landmark Theme Study."

One of the new provisions in the revised bill directed the Secretary of the Interior to "contribute up to $1,100,000 in cash or services for the relocation and construction" of an Inyo County maintenance facility "to replace the facility" in the former relocation center's auditorium "located on the land to be acquired." An 11-member Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission, composed of former Manzanar evacuees, local residents, representatives of Native American groups, and the general public for two-year terms, would be established to "meet and consult with" National Park Service officials "at least semiannually" on "matters relating to the development, management, and interpretation of the site, including the preparation of the general management plan." Since lands owned by the state or a political subdivision could be acquired only by donation or exchange, the report directed the National Park Service and the LADWP to explore the possibility of donating the land to the National Park Service before considering the possibility of a land exchange. Cooperative agreements with public and private entities for management and interpretation at the site were authorized, as were cooperative agreements with the State of California or its political subdivisions for rescue, fire fighting, and law enforcement services on a reimbursable basis. [66]

That same day Congressman Bruce F. Vento, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, brought H.R. 543 to the floor for consideration by the House of Representatives. Vento urged passage of the measure by stating:

Mr. Speaker, 3 years ago this body passed legislation which acknowledged the injustice of the internment policy and apologized on behalf of the people of the United States. Our willingness to make restitution when we departed from our founding principles of freedom and civil liberties is a sign of our humility and greatness as a nation. Today we have a unique opportunity to build on that record by establishing a national historic site which will serve as a permanent reminder of a time when our country denied its own citizens rights guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. [67]

After limited debate and discussion, the bill was passed by voice vote.

Meanwhile, companion legislation had been introduced in the Senate. On March 12, 1991, Senators Alan Cranston (Ca.), Paul Seymour (Ca.), and Daniel Akaka (Hi.) had introduced S. 621, providing for establishment of Manzanar National Historic Site, and on June 20, 1991, Senators Akaka, Cranston, and Brock Adams (Wa.) had introduced S. 1344, providing for a Japanese-American History Theme Study.

On July 25, 1991, Jerry Rogers testified on behalf of the National Park Service before the Subcommittee on Public Lands, National Parks and Forests of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources concerning S. 621 and H.R. 543 and S. 1344 and Title II of H.R. 543. Among his comments, Rogers observed:

We believe that establishing the Manzanar National Historic Site would provide an excellent basis on which to interpret the treatment of Japanese-Americans during 1941-1946. Manzanar is of much greater significance, in our view, than the specific sites that would be examined under S. 1344. The temporary [assembly] camps no longer exist, and we believe other facilities, such as military camps where the Japanese-American combat units trained, are locally important but would not support National Historic Landmark status.

In addition, we strongly oppose the narrow focus of the bill [S. 1344; Title II, H.R5431. We believe it would be unwise to enact special legislation mandating theme studies for particular ethnic groups represented in the population of the United States, rather than addressing them through the normal planning process. . . .

After making several minor amendments, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously recommended passage of H.R. 543, as amended, on November 20, 1991. The Senate amendments were designed to meet the objections of the LADWP. One amendment stated that nothing in Title I of the bill would affect the water rights of the City of Los Angeles, except for an agreement to be reached between the Secretary of the Interior and the City for the provision of sufficient water for the site. Lands could not be acquired until an agreement for water supply had been consummated with the City of Los Angeles. Another amendment provided that nothing in the bill should create, expand, or diminish any authority of the Secretary of the Interior over lands or activities of the City of Los Angeles outside the boundaries of the proposed historic site. [68]

On November 26, 1991, H.R. 543, as amended, was brought to the floor in the Senate and passed without debate or discussion. [69]

Nearly three months later, on February 18, 1992, Congressman Vento brought H.R. 543, as amended by the Senate, to the House floor, recommending passage. Congressman Miller endorsed the bill, and introduced into the record a Los Angeles Times article blaming the LADWP for standing in the way of the bill's speedy passage by demanding concessions and threatening to block transfer of the land unless it received an exemption from the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the "public trust doctrine." [70] Consideration of the bill was continued on February 19 when the bill, as amended by the Senate, was passed by a margin of 400 yes to 13 no votes, with 21 members not voting. [71]

Public Law 102-248 (106 Stat. 40), "An Act to Establish the Manzanar National Historic Site in the State of California, and for other purposes," was enacted into law and signed by President George H. W. Bush on March 3, 1992, two weeks after the 50th anniversary of President Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066. According to the act, the site, consisting of approximately 500 acres of land, was established "to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II." [72]

Designation of Manzanar National Historic Site, the 367th unit to be added to the National Park System, generated a variety of responses. Some Inyo County interests heralded Manzanar's designation as a boon to local tourism and economic growth. [73] Other observers commented on the rightful place of a "Site of Shame" in the National Park System. Robin Winks, Professor of History at Yale University noted:

With the recent addition of Manzanar National Historic Site to the National Park System, the public has been introduced more dramatically than ever before to a fundamental debate. Should the national parks commemorate and protect only places and events in which we take pride, or should the parks strive to mark events and places that many agree represent shameful episodes in our national experience?

. . . The question is, should we commemorate or should we strive to forget, indeed should we bury from the national consciousness, these fearful times in our history? . . .

Each of the 367 units of the National Park System — the most intellectually elegant and the best administered system in the world — is a branch campus of our greatest national university Each unit has a unique mission, and each is to be interpreted so that visitors may comprehend the mission and attain a better understanding of American heritage. . . .

Education is best done with examples. These examples must include that which we regret, that which is to be avoided, as well as that for which we strive. No effective system of education can be based on unqualified praise, for all education instructs people of the difference between moral and wanton acts and how to distinguish between the desirable and the undesirable. If this premise is correct, we cannot omit the negative lessons of history. [74]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002