Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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In early May 1942, the first evacuees began to arrive at the relocation centers operated by the War Relocation Authority, the two exceptions being Manzanar (which was transferred from the Wartime Civil Control Administration to the WRA to become an officially-designated relocation center on June 1, 1942) and Poston which had been established initially by the Army as "reception centers" to serve not only as assembly centers but also as permanent relocation centers. By June 5, when the movement of evacuees from their homes in Military Area No. 1 into assembly centers was completed, the transfer of evacuees to relocation centers was well underway. Most entrants to the relocation centers came directly from the WCCA assembly centers, although some arrived from other places, as shown in the chart on the next page. Evacuees had been assured that the WRA centers would be more suitable for residence and more permanent than the hastily-established assembly centers. They also believed that at the new camps some of the most repressive aspects of the assembly centers, particularly the guard towers and barbed wire fences, would be eliminated. All things considered, most evacuees were prepared for an orderly, cooperative move. [1]

Compared with the rapidity of the movement of the Japanese from their homes to the assembly centers, the movement to relocation centers was a lengthy six-month process. [2] By June 30, more than 27,000 people were living at three relocation centers: Manzanar, Poston, and Tule Lake. Three months later, all ten relocation centers except Jerome, Arkansas, had opened, and 90,000 people had been transferred. By November 1, transfers had been completed and, at the end of the year, the centers had the highest population they would ever have — 106,770 persons. More than 175 groups of about 500 each had moved, generally aboard one of 171 special trains, to a center in one of six western states or Arkansas. [3]


When evacuees entered a relocation center, they left Army jurisdiction and came into the custody of the War Relocation Authority, a federal agency that had been established by President Roosevelt on March 18, 1942, by Executive Order 9102. Under the provisions of the executive order, the WRA was authorized to formulate and execute a relocation program — to provide shelter, subsistence, clothing, medical attention, educational and recreational facilities, as well as private and public opportunities for evacuees. To implement the WRA program, its director was authorized by the order to

1. Accomplish all necessary evacuation not undertaken by the Secretary of War or military commanders

2. Relocate, supervise, and provide for the needs of such persons

3. Provide for employment of such persons with due regard to the safeguarding of the public interest

4. Secure cooperation and assistance of any governmental agency

5. Consult with the Secretary of War relative to regulations issued by him in order to coordinate evacuation and relocation activities

7. Employ personnel and make expenditures including loans, grants, and the purchase of real property

8. Consult with the U.S. Employment Service and cooperate with the Alien Property Custodian

9. Establish a War Relocation Work Corps to be made up by voluntary enlistment of evacuees

10. Avoid duplication of evacuation activities by not undertaking any evacuation activities within military areas designated under Executive Order 9066 without the approval of the Secretary of War and an appropriate military commander. [4]

distribution chart
Figure 7: U.S. Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority. The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description
(Washington, Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 8.
(click on the above image for an enlargement in a new window)

Milton S. Eisenhower, appointed by President Roosevelt as the WRA's first director, faced a gargantuan task — building an agency to direct and supervise the lives of more than 100,000 people and, at the same time, deciding what to do with them. The WRA had to move quickly in finding centers to house the evacuees and in developing policies and procedures for handling the evacuees soon to come under its jurisdiction. The president had stressed the need for immediate action, and both the War Department and the WRA were anxious to remove the evacuees from the primitive, makeshift assembly centers. Eisenhower quickly concluded that the evacuation would eventually be viewed as "avoidable injustice" and an "inhuman mistake." Eisenhower confronted an initial decision that would shape the rest of the WRA program — would the evacuees be resettled and placed in new homes and jobs, or would they be detained, confined, and supervised for the duration of the war? He was given almost no guidance on this crucial matter. Nothing had been decided beyond the fact that the military would deliver the evacuees to the WRA and thereafter wish no further part in the "Japanese problem." [5]

Eisenhower and his advisors believed that the vast majority of the evacuees were law abiding and loyal and that, once out of the combat zone, they should be returned quickly to conditions approximating normal life. Convinced that the WRA's goal should be to achieve this rehabilitative measure, they devised a plan to move evacuees to the intermountain states. The government would operate "reception centers" and some evacuees would work within them, developing the land and farming. Many more, however, would work outside the centers in private employment — manufacturing, farming, or creating new self-supporting communities. [6]

Mike Masaoka, National Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League, approached Eisenhower on April 6 with a lengthy letter setting out recommendations and suggestions for policies the WRA should follow. His suggestions were grounded in the basic position that JACL had taken on exclusion and evacuation:

We have not contested the right of the military to order this movement, even though it meant leaving all that we hold dear and sacred, because we believe that cooperation on our part will mean a reciprocal cooperation on the part of the government.

Among the letter's many recommendations was the plea that the government permit Japanese Americans to have as much contact as possible with white Americans to avoid isolation and segregation. [7]

The WRA's plans were in sympathy with such an approach, and on April 2 Eisenhower announced a five-point program for employment of evacuees. The employment program included public works such as land development, agricultural production, and manufacturing within relocation areas, private employment, and private resettlement. [8] However, the government's experience with voluntary relocation suggested that the WRA would only be successful if it could enlist the help of the interior state governors. Accordingly, the WRA arranged a meeting with officials of ten western states for April 7 in Salt Lake City. Representing the federal government were Bendetsen and Eisenhower, the former describing the evacuation and the Western Defense Command's reasons for it and the latter discussing his planned program. From the states, which included Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, and Wyoming, came five governors and a host of other officials, as well as a few farmers who were anxious to employ evacuees for harvesting. [9]

The governors of the mountain states were unimpressed by Bendetsen's presentation, but they adamantly opposed the "social engineering" theories on which Eisenhower's proposed program was based. They opposed any evacuee land purchase or settlement in their states and wanted guarantees that the government would forbid evacuees to buy land and that it would remove them at the end of the war. They objected to California using the interior states as a "dumping ground" for a California "problem."

People in their states were so bitter over the voluntary evacuation, they said, that unguarded evacuees would face physical danger. The most extreme viewpoint was expressed by Governor Herbert Maw of Utah who set forth a plan whereby the states would operate the relocation program with federal financing, hiring state guards and setting up camps where Japanese could be detained while working on federally approved projects. Citing strategic defense installations in Utah, he stated that evacuees should not be allowed to "roam" at large. Accusing the WRA of being too concerned about the rights and liberties of Japanese American citizens, he suggested that the Constitution be amended. The governors of Idaho and Wyoming agreed, the former advocating the round up and supervision of those who had already entered his state and the latter urging that evacuees be placed in "concentration camps." With few exceptions, the other officials present echoed these sentiments. Only Governor Ralph L. Carr of Colorado took a moderate position, and the voices of those hoping to use the evacuees for agricultural labor were drowned out. [10]

Bendetsen and Eisenhower were unable or unwilling to face down this united political opposition. The consensus of the meeting, to which these two reluctantly agreed, was that the plan for reception centers was acceptable, as long as the evacuees remained under guard within the camps. As he left Salt Lake City, Eisenhower had no doubt that private resettlement efforts had to be put off and that "the plan to move the evacuees into private employment had to be abandoned — at least temporarily." [11]

Before it had begun, Eisenhower and the WRA were thus forced by political pressure to abandon their evacuee resettlement theories and adopt an evacuee confinement policy. West coast politicians had achieved their program of exclusion, while political leaders of the interior states had achieved their program of detention. Without giving up its belief that evacuees should be brought back to normal productive life, WRA had, in effect, become their jailer, contending that confinement was for the benefit of the evacuees and that the controls on their departure were designed to prevent mistreatment by other Americans. [12]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002