Sunday, July 06, 2014

Blind Injustice

Amache 1943

Last year I wrote extensively about the Japanese Relocation Camps built just after Pearl Harbor but had visited just two, Topaz near Delta, Utah and Manzanar outside of Lone Pine, California. Then two weeks ago I made my way to the Amache Camp in Colorado. Situated near the Kansas border just off US 50 in Granada the sprawling camp once housed 7,500 internees and was, at its peak the tenth largest town in the state. Walking through fields of dust, sage and cactus I tried to imagine the feelings that Japanese families must have felt to have been uprooted from their homes in California, mostly near Los Angeles, and delivered to an arid patch of dirt where the winds blew hard and furious and their homes for the next three years were to be twelve to the block tar paper and plywood housing units without running water.
Facing west

Barracks Foundation

When the prisoners, is any other term more apt? , arrived they found a camp just partially built and had to complete construction themselves. The WRA, War Relocation Authority, knew full well that the camp was not ready for occupancy but was unwilling to delay the relocation even a single day so strong was anti-Japanese sentiment in America and at the top levels of the authority. Its head, Lieutenant General J.L. Dewitt, was an ardent racist on his best day.

On June 39, 1942 the first 212 internees, these from California’s Central Valley, arrived at Amache. The mostly male contingent was selected for its diverse skills as artisans, stenographers, clerks, cooks and other specialties that would help prepare the camp for settlement.  When they arrived only two blocks of barracks, one mess hall and one latrine had been completed. At its full occupancy the camp had 550 buildings and by October 1942 housed 7,567 prisoners.

The original 25,000 water tank which was found on a nearby farm and reassembled in 2012.

Subsidiary tank, one of four.

The original pump house still in use.

This is for your own good.
Most western governors were adamantly against having relocation camps in their states.  Only Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr, a Republican for Pete's sake, saw the Japanese relocation policy as the tragic miscarriage of justice that it was and actually welcomed the Japanese Americans to his state.

He stated, “This is a difficult time for all Japanese speaking people.  We must work together for the preservation of our American system and the continuation of our theory of universal brotherhood…If we do not extend humanity’s kindness and understanding, if we deny them the protection of the Bill of Rights, if we say that they must be denied the privilege of living in the 48 states without hearing or charge of misconduct, then we are tearing down the whole American system.” Further, he said that “hosting the detainees is a civic responsibility.” They don’t make ‘em like Ralph Carr anymore.
Carr’s vocal support for the Japanese was, of course, highly controversial and he was defeated in his bid for the US Senate in 1942. He had retired from public life but decided to run for governor again in 1950. He died a month before the election. 

Soon after his death, Coloradans started to understand that his principled stand had been right, that there been zero cases of spying or espionage in the Japanese American community.

Ralph Carr is remembered as a person of rare humanity, someone who stood up for the rights of others even when that stand cost him his political career.  This honorable man is memorialized with a statue in Denver’s Sakura Square and the new Ralph Carr Judicial Center that houses the Colorado Supreme Court.

In 1999, the Denver Post named him Colorado’s “Citizen of the Century.”

Take time to click on the images to see them full size.  You've got to read the sign in the last one.


Daryl A. Black said...

Just stunning, Steve, to see pavement ragged and overgrown and to know something was here, but what? Your photographs make the relocation camp a reality and the history you included brings it front and center to many who may not have know that this actually happened in these United States. A great Independence Day blog.

George Takei, Sulu from the original Star Trek, has written a Broadway play currently in production about his family and the time the spent interned. How often does history have to repeat itself? Thanks for bringing this not-so-gentle part of our past to the fore.

Steve Immel said...

Takei was at the infamous Tule Lake Camp and at least one other. He's about 80 so he would have been about 8 to 11 years old.