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A view of the ports in colonial Boston, 1768.


The Only One Barred Out.
Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, vol. 54 (1882 April 1), p. 96. Image Credit: Library of Congress.


The Slave Trade by Auguste Francois Biard, circa 1833.    

Mass removal and incarceration

In March 1942, the U.S. government began uprooting about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast and incarcerating them in various government facilities around the nation. [7] 


Today, these facilities are often called “internment camps,” although scholars have advocated the use of less euphemistic terms such as “concentration camps” (which was the term used popularly at the time.[8] After forced removal, prisoners were typically first whisked to “Assembly Centers”–usually racetrack stables or hastily-built barracks at county fairgrounds to temporarily house inmates in 1942-43–while more permanent camps were constructed.


A few weeks or months later, they were eventually moved to one of the 10 permanent “Relocation Centers” run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), where they spent the remainder of their detention.

“Evacuees” of Japanese ancestry line up for lunch at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, Arcadia, CA. April, 1942.

The 10 WRA Relocations Centers were spread across seven states (Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming) and ranged in size from about 7,000 to 19,000 inmates at peak occupancy. [9] They were located in remote interior areas far from population centers and staffed by armed guards.


Each incarceration camp was different—from the marshy swamplands of Arkansas to the arid deserts of California and Arizona—but inmates did share certain common experiences.  

Manzanar War Relocation Authority Center for “evacuees” of Japanese ancestry, in Manzanar, CA.

They lived and slept in barracks, ate in mess halls, and used public bathrooms. Facilities were generally very spartan and often overcrowded, with little privacy. In many camps, 25 people were forced to live in spaces built for four. [10]   

Living conditions were generally poor, leading the Secretary of the Interior to write to President Roosevelt in 1943 asking that living conditions in the camps be improved, and expressing his concern that the camps’ poor conditions were gradually turning “thousands of well-meaning and loyal Japanese into angry prisoners.” [11]     

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