The purpose of this research is to analyze the origins and functions of the Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Manzanar Relocation Center as used in the internment of Japanese-Americans from 1942 to 1946.
Three months after Pearl Harbor, General DeWitt, Commanding General of the Western Defense Command, designated Military Area 1 as including the three Pacific coastal states and the southern half of Arizona. Japanese aliens were to be excluded from this area. A period of voluntary evacuation began:
On March 30, three thousand people of Japanese
ancestry were ordered to evacuate the Terminal
Island area in Los Angeles Harbor by April 5 and
move to the assembly center at Santa Anita.
By April of 1942 it became clear that public opinion in the interior Western states would make it impossible to transfer the Japanese to those interior areas. Most of the governors and officials of ten western states expressed bitter opposition to the proposed programs for Japanese internment in their states. It was variously suggested the coastal states were using the device to remove a local problem of long standing. Some denied the Japanese had any of the rights of citizenship. Some hinted their people were ready for personal action, vigilantism:
The official conception by state officers of
the type of program best suited to the situa-
tion was one of concentration camps with workers
being farmed out to work under armed guards.
Some representatives advocated out-and-out
detention camps for the Japanese.
As erroneous as final plans may be judged to be, the federal government would have none of this. That being the case, plans for individual relocations were made impossible. Then, the WDC -Western Defense Command – made plans to channel evacuees into temporary assembly centers, and later to be moved to permanent relocation centers where they were to be supervised under military procedures. The coast strip, area no. 1, was divided by the command into 99 “exclusion” areas. As plans were completed for movements into temporary assembly centers, from area to center, a civilian exclusion order would be issued six days before the required date of departure:
These orders . . . state only that all persons of
Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, be
excluded, described, with the aid of a sketch-map,
the area from which the Japanese were to be re-
moved, gave the hour and day on which they were
to be gone.
They were later given a schedule date and hour for their departure and assigned a specific bus or coach in the convoy. Each person carried an ID tag. Most were transported by bus or train; some could drive to the assembly centers in their own car if the distance was not more than 100 miles.
Evacuees were allowed to take only a few personal belongings. No pets. No personal items and no household goods. Most had give days after notice of removal in which to sell, rent, loan, store, or give away their real property and possessions. Many suffered heavy financial losses: “[I]f one includes both income and property losses, the total would exceed 350 million dollars. . . .”
Twelve assembly centers were set up in California. Race tracks, fair grounds, exhibition halls were taken over. The living quarters were small and had the atmosphere of their former use. The centers were surrounded by tall, strong wire fences, patrolled by military police. Guard towers were spotted at intervals, searchlights were installed.
Movements of the Japanese to the assembly centers were supervised by the MPs of the Fifth Army. Troops were used for security purposes in civil-control stations and for external security at the assembly centers. Guards at assembly centers were also equipped with rifles and machine guns. The evacuation and internment in assembly centers in military area was completed by June 6, 1942. One hundred thousand persons were taken from their homes and removed at an average of 3,750 per day. At the height of this activity, certain humane activities were exercised:
Permission was given evacuees to visit seriously
ill hospitalized relatives, if there were in the
immediate family . . . to attend to urgent business
matters . . . to attend funerals of immediate family
members. . . .
The largest center was at the Santa Anita race track. It had the longest period of occupancy of any – from March 27 to October 27, 1942. It was in operation for 215 days, the longest time of the total of 16 in military area 1. Its population reached an average of 13,000 per day, with a maximum of more than 18,000. Life in hastily constructed barracks and horse stalls presented many difficulties:
For extended occupancy by men, women, and children,
whose movements were necessarily restricted, the
use of facilities of this character was not highly
desirable. . . .
As at Santa Anita, in 28 days, the army rigged up primitive barracks in 15 assembly centers to provide temporary quarters. Each evacuee made his own mattress out of straw, took his place in the crowded barracks. The WRA job was to hold the people until they could be resettled in a more orderly fashion.
The Santa Anita center was closed in October 27, 1942. Before closing, some interesting logistics of the operation are found in Pacemaker, the center’s newspaper, mainly prepared by the evacuees:
Aside from housing 7182 in the stables and 11,411
in the tar covered barracks, the housing section
has been responsible for the operation and main-
tenance of the showers, latrines and laundries.
. . .
The Santa Anita assembly center, with a population
of more than 18,000 people, consumed 92,000 pounds
of food daily at the six mess halls . . . all food
ordered through the Army 45 days in advance and
purchased in Chicago. . . . [L]ocal markets ordered
a month ahead of time for fresh produce. . . .
Scores of women gathered at information centers in
the middle of May to study proper food and feeding
facilities for children. . . .
Under the exigencies of the occasion, it would appear no brutality or deprivation was a matter of federal policy.
The government of the assembly centers was in the hands of the wartime civil control administration, which laid down the policies for educational, religious, and press activities. Much latitude was given the evacuees in setting up educational and recreational facilities. Classes for children were organized, small libraries established, boy and girl Scout troops organized, classes in music and folk dancing given for adults. Religious services could be performed by Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists. Shinto services were forbidden because of that faiths political overtones of subservience to the Japanese Emperor. Center newspapers in English were established and eagerly supported by the evacuees:
Executive Order 9102 issued by President Roosevelt
creating the War Relocation Authority, a non-military
agency, with authority to formulate and carry out a
program for a planned and orderly relocation of per-
sons evacuated from military areas. . . .
With this Order, the change took place from detention in the assembly centers to residence in the “relocation” centers for more permanent tenure. This was effective March 18 but did not immediately become viable until May of 1942 because of construction problems.
The second controlled migration of the assembly center population of 90,000+ to more extensive camps, administered by the War Relocation Authority, was completed by November 1942: “Most were located on federal land, on desolate but irrigable desert tracts. Tar papered barracks were thrown up, wire fences built. . . .” These relocation centers were designated as military areas, from which unauthorized departures could be penalized. The fact is, however, that the military paraphernalia of barbed wire, watch towers, and guards was kept at a minimum, and soon had only a symbolic significance:
At Manzanar, the center is but a tiny square in
a vast and lonely desert valley, between two
great mountain ranges. Spiritually the people
are just as isolated as that thrown together in
a compact racial island of their own frustrated
people; they grow in upon themselves and each
Manzanar was typical of all the ten camps. It had 36 blocks of residences, barracks 100 feet long and 25 feet, divided into four sections.
It was occupied from June 1, 1942 to November 21, 1945 – 1,270 days with a maximum population of 10,046. Each camp has communal mess halls, utility buildings, canteens organized as consumers cooperatives, and school and recreation rooms. The living quarters were in the barracks, they arranged in blocks around wide fire-breaks. Families or groups of unrelated individuals were assigned apartments, consisting usually of a single room, 20 x 25 or 16 x 20 feet, with bare boards, knotholes in the planks. For each person an army cot, a blanket, and a sack filled with straw to make a mattress. No shelves, closets, chairs, tables, or screens. In this space 5 to 7 people, in a few cases, 8 men, women, and children, lived. It was not long before the inevitable flareups showed. Procurement difficulties arose, shortages of food, hospital supplies, and other irritants developed.
Revolt against the administration took the form of strikes or minor work stoppages during the fall of 1942, but in only two camps, Poston and Manzanar, did they assume the proportion of riots. In Manzanar, martial law was declared and a machine gunner fired upon the evacuees, killing one and wounding several others. Alleged agitators were removed to jail or isolation ares, and a number of JACL – Japanese American Citizens League – and other collaborators were removed and resettled in the middle west:
The so-called riots which brought the army over
the fence arose from the accumulation of small
grievances, whipped up to a crisis by groups of
evacuees struggling for power and eager to put
the administration on the spot . . . only when
violence occurred and the director thought he
needed help in maintaining order was the army
invited in. . . .
After the friction in the fall of 1942 at Poston and Manzanar, which involved and aroused the majority of the residents, the WRA revised the policy for community government, believing legislative and judicial functions were beyond the abilities of the councils, at that time. In January of 1943, sole responsibility for community government involving law and order was taken from the residents’ councils. A “Handbook for Community Government,” outlined the appropriate functions of the council. It had power to make regulations governing traffic and sanitation and other minor matters of community concern, to conduct ceremonies such as memorial services for dead soldiers, induction ceremonies for departing servicemen who enlisted in the Army. The judicial commission, though meeting infrequently, offered another opportunity for the expression of community sentiment. A few minor cases of theft, gambling, and assault were dealt with. Juveniles involved were ordered to give up their zoot suits and got a haircut as punishment. Planning in the council was on a day-to-day basis; long-range planning was the prerogative of the administration.
In 1942, the right to vote for council members had been extended to every one over 18 but only citizens of the United States over 21 were eligible for office. Aliens were eligible for membership on appointed committees, commissions, and boards. In April, 1943, the policies were altered to make Issei eligible for office.
Some of the evacuees served as agents of the administration in the role of block managers, and became powerful political forces within the community. The natural Japanese talent for self-organization soon made itself known. The managers were a means of communication with the individual residents, controlled the distribution of supplies to them, kept records, did many other minor but detailed tasks. Within each block a council was formed to assist the block managers and act as liaison with the residents. All centers had Buddhist and Christian churches. Only Shintoism, requiring worship of the Emperor, was forbidden. As of July 1943, 107 ministers were supported by national religious organizations outside the center.
The WRA slowly brought changes in resettlement policies. Evacuee labor was used in the operation of the center, unloading supplies from rail heads in military zones. During April and May of 1942, 75 students were entered in colleges under a student relocation committee. In May 29, a national Japanese/American Student Relocation Council, supported by the WRA, the War Department, many colleges, was formed in Chicago. It succeeded in placing 152 students in institutions outside the evacuation zones by September of 1942 and 250 students from the centers had been granted leave.
In the summer of 1942, the first policy allowing for permanent resettlement in distinction to temporary leaves for seasonal agricultural labor was put into effect. Stimulated by the national man-power shortage, the success of the seasonal agricultural-leave program, by realization that changes in public opinion could now sustain the evacuees in their jobs and homes in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states, the leave policy was broadened in the fall of 1942. There were short term leaves, work group leaves, indefinite leaves for permanent resettlement. By January 1, 1943, 2,200 evacuees had filed for indefinite leave, 250 had received them, 193 had left for centers of residence in the mountain and plains states. A total of 414 student leaves had been granted, 250 students enrolled in 75 different. These figures reflect totals from all the centers, including Manzanar. Specific figures for Manzanar are not available but the percentage proportions are held to be applicable.
This outward movement of evacuees was speeded up in 1943 by wholesale determination of eligibility for leave clearance. In January 1943, citizens of Japanese ancestry had been accepted into the armed forces. By December of 1943, 16,000 evacuees had left the centers on indefinite leaves, 1,138 students “leaved” for college, 5,000 seasonal workers released for agriculture in summer and fall. By July 1944, 83,000 had filed applications for leave clearance, 68,000 granted. The population remaining in the ten centers was reduced to 80,000.
Unconditional freedom for the majority of the Japanese to return to the evacuated areas of the Pacific Coast, was announced in December 1944, three years after Pearl Harbor. In that month the Japanese evacuee population was divided into three major groups – 109,545 were cleared to move anywhere they wished, 4,963 males were detained at Tule Lake for security reasons, 4,810 other males were excluded from the military zone awaiting applications for expatriation to Japan.
With the defeat of Japan, the WDC and the War Department abolished the exclusion program, and on September 4, 1945, all Japanese except those at Tule Lake were free to go where they pleased.
November 21, 1945, Manzanar closes as last
evacuees leave at 11 AM.