Colorado River Relocation Center

Colorado River Relocation Center, 1942

Manzanar Relocation Center Memorial Day service

Manzanar Relocation Center Memorial Day Service, 1942

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Manzanar Relocation Center gardens

Manzanar Relocation Center gardens, 1942

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, about 112,000 people of Japanese descent were living in California, Arizona, and the coastal areas of Oregon and Washington. Roughly a third of them were Japanese immigrants, the Issei, who had come to the United States before the Immigration Act of 1924 placed extreme limitations on Japanese immigration. The Issei were not eligible for U.S. citizenship, and they faced myriad discriminations before the war. Their children and grandchildren, the Nisei and the Sansei, were American citizens by birth, and they constituted two-thirds of the West Coast population of Japanese descent.

After Pearl Harbor, the Issei were subject to several Justice Department regulations as enemy aliens, and these restrictions gradually multiplied. Some of the early restrictions established a curfew and limited travel to within five miles of home. Talk of evacuating the Issei evolved into a plan to evacuate the entire population, regardless of citizenship status. The President signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 to give the Secretary of War authority to prescribe areas from which any person or group could be excluded. At the time of this authorization, Japanese Americans were asked to leave the West Coast voluntarily. After the objections of inland states to the potential influx of refugees, evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent, regardless of citizenship, was made compulsory.

Without hearings or official charges, thousands were evacuated to temporary assembly centers and then moved inland to remote barrack relocation centers administered by a civilian agency, the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The majority of the evacuees lived as wards of the U.S. Government for nearly three years, and after January 2, 1945, the effective date of the rescission of the exclusion orders, roughly half of the evacuated Japanese Americans returned to the West Coast. The remainder were scattered throughout the country or were serving by the thousands with the Army of Occupation in Europe or Asia. Some lost everything they had, and many lost most. 

Page content from the collection's 1942 WRA publication, "Japanese America Relocation," and 1946 WRA publication, "Wartime Handling of Evacuee Property."