Tulelake, Modoc County, California April 15, 1942

On this date in 1942, in a remote, under­developed recla­ma­tion dis­trict roughly 35 miles south­east of Klamath Falls, Oregon, and about 10 miles from the town of Tule­lake (or Newell), the federal govern­ment began con­struc­tion of the Tule Lake Relo­ca­tion Center for persons of Japa­nese ances­try forci­bly “evacu­ated” from the U.S. West Coast. Shortly there­after the first Japa­nese Ameri­cans from hastily erected assembly centers (actu­ally tran­sit camps) in Port­land, Oregon, and Puyal­lup, Wash­ing­ton, arrived to help set up the relo­ca­tion center. In the weeks ahead Japa­nese Ameri­can assembly centers in Mary­ville, Pine­dale, Pomona, Sacra­mento, and Salinas in Cali­for­nia emptied their “evacu­ees,” as internees or incar­cerees were then known, into the Tule Lake Relo­ca­tion Center; a number were sent directly to Tule Lake from cities in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the large agricultural valley running down the center of the state.

The deportation of U.S.-born Japanese and Japa­nese nationals regardless of age to remote cor­ners of the coun­try was based not on what these people had done or ever would do to put the nation’s secu­rity at risk but on who they were: mem­bers of a race in Asia with whom the United States was at war. Presi­dent Frank­lin D. Roose­velt’s Febru­ary 19, 1942, Exec­u­tive Order 9066 (it really was FDR’s to own, as most of the presi­dent’s advisers had not argued for any­thing so trag­ically encom­passing) swept up two-thirds of the coun­try’s Japa­nese “non-aliens” (the war­time term for Amer­i­can cit­izens of Japa­nese descent by birth) plus the remaining Japa­nese nationals residing in Cali­for­nia, western Oregon and Wash­ing­ton, and southern Ari­zona, the so-called “Exclusion Area.” So Tule Lake, along with nine other per­ma­nent camps managed by the War Relo­ca­tion Author­ity (WRA), was used to intern “for the dura­tion” (a con­ven­iently vague span of time) close to a tenth of the almost 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who might conceivably pose a danger.

In early 1943 the War Department, in an effort to recruit volun­teers from WRA camps for an all-Nisei (second-gen­er­a­tion Japa­nese) com­bat unit, created an ill-con­ceived ques­tion­naire for internees 17 and older to deter­mine their “loyalty.” Two ques­tions, one con­cerning poten­tial ser­vice in the U.S. armed forces (Ques­tion 27), the other (Ques­tion 28) con­cerning for­swearing alle­giance to Japan and swearing unqual­i­fied alle­giance to the U.S. (while locked up, no less!), caused much anxiety and agonizing. What if indi­vidual family mem­bers answered differ­ently? Would mem­bers be separated? Par­tic­u­larly Issei (Japa­nese nationals), who by law were barred from becoming nat­u­ralized Americans, feared answering “Yes” to the second ques­tion. Might they become state­less? Many internees (42 percent at Tule Lake) were so upset and insulted by the two ques­tions that they answered “No-No” to both or point-blank resisted filling out the compulsory questionnaire.

Because the largest proportion of internees whom the govern­ment now con­sid­ered “dis­loyal” was at Tule Lake, the WRA con­verted the camp into a maxi­mum secu­rity segre­ga­tion facil­ity. By the fall of 1943, 6,500 “loyal” Tuleans who had answered “Yes-Yes” were trans­ferred to other camps, and about 12,000 “No-Nos” (so-called “recal­ci­trants”) and resisters (“incor­ri­gible agi­ta­tors”) with their fami­lies arrived from the other nine WRA camps. The new­comers joined 6,000 Tulean “No-Nos,” resisters, and “loyals” (4,000) who chose to stay. A camp built for 10,000 now had to accom­mo­date 18,700 internees—pri­soners who were watched over by the largest, most sub­stantial military police presence (1,200 soldiers and 8 tanks) of any WRA camp.

World War II Japanese Internment: The Example of Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center

Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center

Above: Run by the War Relocation Authority, Tule Lake Relo­ca­tion Center (in August 1943, Tule Lake Segre­ga­tion Center) encom­passed 7,400 acres, of which 3,500 acres of the former lake bed were under culti­va­tion in 1941. At an ele­va­tion of 4,000 ft, the high-desert summers were hot and dusty, the winters long and cold. Natural vege­ta­tion consisted of sparse grass, tules (bul­rushes), and sage­brush. No trees. Several tens of thou­sands of people of Japanese her­i­tage passed through Tule Lake until it closed on March 20, 1946, the last (at one point, the largest and argu­a­bly the most con­tro­ver­sial) of the ten WRA camps to shut down. The entire Japa­nese Amer­i­can deten­tion and relo­ca­tion pro­gram was justi­fied at the time as a “mili­tary neces­sity.” Forty years later the U.S. govern­ment con­ceded that the program was based on racial bias rather than on any real threat to the nation’s security.

Construction underway at Tule Lake, April 1942 Boarding train for Tule Lake

Left: Construction of thin-walled wood and tar­paper barrack “apart­ments” has begun at Tule Lake for internees of Japa­nese ancestry. Upon com­ple­tion there were 74 resi­den­tial blocks, each accom­mo­dating approx­i­mately 260 peo­ple. Each block consisted of thir­teen 20‑ft x 100‑ft barracks divided into four-to-six small single-family rooms that took no account of family size. Each drab apart­ment was fur­nished with hard army cots, a pot­bellied stove to heat the space, and one naked light bulb screwed into a cera­mic socket on the end of a long cord hanging from a rafter. The trian­gular-shaped opening above the apartments formed by the rafters and the roof—there were no ceilings—allowed voices and noise to carry through­out the barrack. Photo by Clem Albers, April 23, 1942. Albers was one of three photo­graphers in the WRA Photo­graphy Section, or WRAPS, in 1942–1943. The other two were Francis Stewart and Dorothea Lange.

Right: These Japanese internees board a Tule Lake-bound train accom­panied by only what they could carry in their two hands. Larger per­sonal items identi­fied by family name and desti­na­tion would be placed in bag­gage cars and unloaded at a siding inside the reloca­tion center’s barbed wire perimeter. Photographer and date unknown.

Finger printing at Tule Lake, September 1943 Internees line up for housing and bedding, Tule Lake, July 1942

Left: Scene in the fingerprinting department at the Tule Lake induc­tion center as an elderly woman has impres­sions made of her fingers on both hands. All Tule Lake internees were com­pelled to be finger­printed and photo­graphed. Photographer Charles Mace, September 25, 1943.

Right: Having just arrived at Tule Lake, these internees are being assigned housing and bedding by staff in one of the four inter­co­nnected admin­is­tration buildings. Photographer Francis Stewart, July 1, 1942.

General Store No. 2, Tule Lake, July 1942 Young people’s dance, Tule Lake, May 1943

Left: The interior of General Store No. 2 at Tule Lake. Photo­grapher Francis Stewart, July 1, 1942. Tule Lake internees had the ser­vices of a large hos­pital (19 barr­acks), a post office, a Bank of America (open two days a week), men’s and women’s hair salons, a news­stand where the center’s bilingual Tulean Dispatch was sold, a funeral parlor and cem­e­tery, and com­munal mess halls cum assembly halls, one per resi­den­tial block (14 barracks). A large stock­ade with 12‑ft-high wooden walls and an adja­cent steel-reinforced con­crete jail built to hold 24 per­sons (at one time it held 100) were part of the bleak camp-scape. Nursery schools, ele­men­tary and second­ary schools, base­ball and soft­ball fields, judo halls, a sumo wrestling pit, and Christian and Buddhist churches were further attempts by the WRA and by the internees using their own meager funds to dupli­cate aca­demic insti­tu­tions, social and recre­ational oppor­tu­nities, and spiritual life outside the 3‑1/2-ft-high warning fence and the guarded and lighted 6‑ft-high “man-proof” perimeter security fence of chain link and barbed wire.

Right: This Associated Press photograph, dated May 21, 1943, appeared in national news media with the following caption: “Young Japa­nese Hold Dance—Mess hall movies, little theatre acti­vi­ties and jitter-bugging to evac­uee bands are popu­lar forms of enter­tain­ment at the Tule Lake, Cali­for­nia, Japa­nese relo­ca­tion center. Here a block dance is in progress. Note the ‘zoot suit’ pants.”

Planting potatoes, Tule Lake, May 1943 Harvesting spinach, Tule Lake, September 1942

Left: Riding light tractors a crew of internee farmers plant potatoes using semi-automatic-feeding, rotary potato planters on several hun­dred acres of fertile soil reclaimed from old Tule Lake. Associated Press photograph, May 21, 1943.

Right: Harvesting spinach. Tule Lake internees grew other crops: the afore­men­tioned pota­toes, also wheat, oats, rye, barley, onions, carrots, turnips, ruta­bagas, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, and celery. Hogs, chickens, and turkeys were raised and butchered. Carp was caught in irri­ga­tion canals. Excess food­stuffs were shipped to other WRA relo­ca­tion centers. Photographer Francis Stewart, September 8, 1942.

U.S. Government Propaganda Film: “Inside the Japanese Internment Camps”

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