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Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center of WWII

By Kenneth Doutt, National Park Service
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the prejudices many had throughout the United States toward people of Japanese ancestry or Nikkei, transformed into fear over the possibility of an organized internal attack by the Japanese Empire. This fear was exacerbated when the war went badly for the United States in the early going. The war time hysteria and mass fear that arose quickly after Pearl Harbor and other attacks by Japan on the West Coast, caused President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066 into effect, creating “Military Exclusion Zones” on the West Coast, which gave the government power to forcibly remove Nikkei living in these areas to temporary assembly centers and later more permanent relocation centers. Designed to hold Nikkei during the war, these ten centers were administered by the newly created War Relocation Authority (WRA) and held nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, American citizens and immigrants alike.

Tule Lake Segregation Center of WW II

The Tule Lake Relocation Center was one of two such centers in California (the other, Manzanar, to the south) and was established in the isolated high desert in the north. Cold winters, hot summers, and dry gusty winds marked the conditions that nearly 15,000 Nikkei were forced to endure during their incarceration. A low barbed wire fence and six guard towers stationed around the perimeter provided a physical barrier between incarcerees and the outside world, though people were allowed to explore their surroundings during the day, returning at night in compliance with a forced curfew. Geologic features such as Castle Rock (The Peninsula) to the west and Abalone Hill (Horse Mountain) to the east served as destinations that provided a brief repast from the confined lives people were forced to live.

Life changed drastically for incarcerees during February of 1943 when the government issued what would later be known as the Loyalty Questionnaire. A series of 28 questions, the answers that people gave ultimately determined in the eyes of the government whether they were deemed “loyal” to the United States and could help in the war effort, or were deemed “disloyal” and labeled as a threat to the country. Due to poor wording and instruction at the Tule Lake Relocation Center, nearly 42% of incarcerees were deemed “disloyal” by the government. The next highest of all the centers was 10%. As a result of its high percentage, the Tule Lake Relocation Center transformed into the Tule Lake Segregation Center in July 1943, a high security facility that held 18,789 people. With seven foot tall barbed wire fences, 28 guard towers, and army personnel, the center was impenetrable.

After farm laborers went on strike during the early days in November 1943, the atmosphere at Tule Lake changed drastically. To hold people labeled as “troublemakers” within the community, the WRA built a stockade followed by a more permanent concrete jail. While the stockade remained for its intended use, this “jail within a jail” functioned primarily as a temporary holding area for members of pro-Japanese organizations and those who had renounced their American citizenship and were awaiting transportation to Japan.

Although the majority of the incarceration sites had closed down by the end of WWII in September 1945, Tule Lake remained open, allowing those who had renounced their American citizenship under duress to attempt to reclaim it. Some remained until the center was finally closed down in March 1946.

The Tule Lake Unit became a National Monument along with eight other units in Hawaii and Alaska by Presidential proclamation in December 2008.

Photo by Lorissa Soriano


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