War Relocation Authority Camps in Arizona 1942-1946


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On March 18, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9102, "Establishing the War Relocation Authority in the Executive Office of the President and Defining its Functions and Duties." This order created a civilian agency in the Office for Emergency Management to provide for the removal of persons or classes of people from designated areas as previously denoted under Executive Order No. 9066. The Authority embarked on a rapid trajectory of planning and building 10 relocation camps that would house more than 110,000 Japanese Americans who lived chiefly inside the boundaries of Military District 1 along the Pacific Coast. A map shows how the WRA dispersed the camps across the western United States.

This Web exhibit features images from approximately forty photographs taken for the War Relocation Authority and vividly depicts life in Arizona's two camps. Follow the Camp Life link to view the images.

Butte WRA camp
Butte WRA camp, looking southwest
credit: Wartime Relocation Authority

 

Poston WRA camp
Poston WRA camp under construction
credit: Wartime Relocation Authority

Two of the larger camps that received the trainloads of evacuees were located in Arizona. One was the Colorado River Relocation Center (April 1942 - March 1946), on Colorado Indian lands near Poston, 12 miles southwest of Parker in La Paz (formerly part of Yuma) County, that had a peak population of about 18,000. The other was constructed at Rivers, on leased Pima-Maricopa Indian lands in west central Pinal County, and was known as the Gila River Relocation Center (May 1942 - February 1946) with a population of about 13,000. While extant, these sites became two of the larger centers of concentrated population in the state. Until it closed offices on June 30, 1946, the Authority carried the responsibility of housing, feeding, employing and otherwise providing services for citizens who had been hastily and summarily placed in an alien social and geographical environment by their federal government in a fevered time of world war.

The engineers typically designed the fenced camps in block arrangements wherein each block contained 14 barracks, 1 mess hall and 1 recreation hall on the outer edges, and ironing, laundry, and men's and women's lavatories on the interior. Households were assigned space in the spartan 100 by 20 foot family structures of wood and tar paper according to the number of people in their household. Other structures in the camp were designated for dry and cold warehouses, car and equipment repair and storage, administration, schools, canteens, library, religious services, hospitals, and post office. Cooperatives purchased and distributed merchandise; efficient work groups formed around the manufacture of camouflage nets and ship models used as training aids for naval personnel; vegetables and fruit were cultivated for camp and commercial consumption; and livestock was bred and raised. At one camp, a honeymoon cottage was set aside for the exclusive use of newlyweds; at another, 662 babies were born while 221 adults spent their last day on earth behind the wires.

These interned citizens represented a broad spectrum of the Japanese community in America at the time including Issei, the elders who arrived in the early 1900s, the Nisei, the second generation born in America, and the Kibei, also second generation born here but educated in Japan. The melange of individuals and administrators in the camps, coupled with the social, political and psychological dissonances of the relocation conditions, engendered numerous responses in their combined efforts to construct community from chaos. An anonymous poem circulated at the Poston camp, entitled That Damned Fence, illustrates the despair felt by the evacuees.

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