Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
NPS Logo



The Manzanar center was established to house some 10,000 evacuees. According to Brown and Merritt, all evacuees were housed in standard Army barracks which "did not differ in any detail," and all were "fed on a common diet to be served in mess halls," "Previously existing inequalities among Japanese were thus to be ironed out insofar as the standard of living was concerned." Brown and Merritt observed that "for the first few months, most inequalities were ironed out in the scramble for the primary, simple comforts of living." Until basic needs were met, there was little "struggle for leadership, power, prestige, or control of the camp — all of which came at a later date."


Housing was one of the principal concerns and complaints of the early evacuees to arrive at Manzanar. The lack of privacy in the barracks was a particular concern. Not only were unrelated families scrambled together, but often wives of other men were assigned to the same rooms with bachelors. Wives were sometimes welcomed at the gate by husbands who had preceded them to camp, and then the husbands would not be permitted to share their wives' quarters. While construction of the camp was underway during the early months of the camp's operation, changes could not be effected quickly. Even harder to endure was the forced company of people who did not belong to the family or who logically ought not to be assigned to a common apartment. According to Brown and Merritt, dictates "of decency and logic were violated by the pressure of population and the confusion of conditions because 10,000 persons were received in a little more than two months, and, during this time, the camp was still in the process of construction." On several occasions, "groups were sent in by the Army before the carpenter crews had windows, doors, or roofs on the block buildings to be occupied."

Latrine Usage

One of the most recurrent and emphatic complaints of the early evacuees at Manzanar related to the absence or scarcity of toilet paper in the latrines. Lack of privacy, according to Brown and Merritt, was also a "legitimate" complaint. Women particularly had difficulty coping with the "installation of an Army-latrine system" that provided no partitions.

Financial Concerns

Many of the early evacuees to arrive at Manzanar were concerned about payments for the upkeep of insurance policies, articles and goods bought on installment plans, and automobiles brought to camp. Most evacuees brought "problems in their wake which could not lightly be solved."

Vocational Worries

Many of the early arrivals at Manzanar exerted pressure on the administration to provide them with jobs. They had considerable idle time on their hands, and many had a strong work ethic. The evacuees were told early that they would be expected to work and that the center would develop "as a community in proportion to the interests and efforts the residents themselves were willing to put into building it." However, employment projects were slow in developing at the camp.


The first issue of critical importance to face center management, according to Brown and Merritt, was "over money." The first evacuees to arrive at the center received "an impression" that they "would be paid Army wages." This "probably stemmed from the fact that the Army was in charge of the evacuation, and that it did hire a number of Japanese in clerical and translation positions during evacuation." An Army officer had spoken to a mass meeting sponsored by the Maryknoll Fathers at San Pedro prior to evacuation. During his talk the officer left the impression that "Army wages were to be paid to those who would volunteer to go to Manzanar and make it ready for the others to come." In his first news conference, Triggs stated that he thought the evacuees would be paid "the old WPA wage with deductions made for room and board." The discussion of wages was reported in major metropolitan daily newspapers which the evacuees read at Manzanar, thus becoming a national issue which the evacuees followed closely.

Meanwhile, no decision was made by the Western Defense Command on wages for several months. In the interim, Manzanar center management asked the evacuees to "volunteer" their services to keep essential operations going. Many evacuees became disillusioned, believing they had been "promised" certain wages. Confusion and indecision on the part of the Army and the WCCA over wages, compounded by failure to receive any pay for three months, led to the first charges of "broken promises" by the evacuees. The "broken promise" charge, according to Brown and Merritt, was "an important turning point in the story of Manzanar as it was this weapon which was used by the anti-administration and so-called pro-Japanese forces six months later to stir up the turbulence which resulted in the 'Incident' of December 6." [19]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002