On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, a major U.S. naval base located in Hawaii, and the U.S. entered World War II. With Japan as enemy number one, people of Japanese descent living in the United States suddenly became suspect. So much so, that on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the U.S. military to arrest Japanese American families living on the West Coast, entirely without due process. Thus began a mass incarceration or internment program that targeted over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry based on the false claim of military necessity. The Tule Lake center was the largest of 10 camps where these people were held. By April of 1942, the camp was under construction. It opened on May 26, 1942.
Initially it was termed a relocation center. In 1943, it was converted to a high security segregation center and used to house people who answered no or refused to answer two questions on a loyalty questionnaire – a questionnaire provided to no other American citizens. At one point more than 18,700 men, women and children – mostly U.S. citizens – were held at Tule Lake against their will. Life continued. Before the camp was finally closed on March 28, 1946, 1,490 babies had been born and 331 people had died there.
Whether you refer to it as a segregation center, relocation center, internment camp, concentration camp or prison, life at the center was unpleasant at best. In the summer temperatures rise to over 100°F; in the winter temperatures can reach -20°F. Camp residents lived in uninsulated wooden buildings. In the summer they worked nearby fields to grow their own food. In the winter, they tried to survive. After the camp was closed, the buildings were given to homesteaders in the area for the cost of moving them. Many remain in use as sheds and outbuildings around the area today.
The World War II Valor in the Pacific National monument was created on December 5, 2008. The monument includes five sites in the Pearl Harbor area, three in the Aleutian Islands and the Segregation Center at Tule Lake. This site was added to the monument to bring increased understanding of the high price paid at the hands of their countrymen by some Americans on the home front. The monument site encompasses the original segregation center’s stockade, the War Relocation Authority Motor Pool, the Post Engineer’s Yard and Motor Pool, a small part of the Military Police Compound and the sprawling landscape that forms the historic setting.
The segregation center site is presently a mix of federal, state, and private land. On private land, the Flying Goose Lodges subdivision of the town of Newell contains 44 original buildings and the original industrial area includes five of the original factory and warehouse buildings. Newer buildings on the site, not related to the center, include homes constructed for farm laborers in the 1950’s, a school, and some industrial buildings. The photo below was taken on June 7, 2010, it shows approximately the same scope as the photo above.
Exploration of the camp begins with the museum at the fairgrounds in the community of Tulelake, about 10 miles north of the Internment Center. The museum offers extensive information on the camp and life there, as well as a guard tower and other artifacts from the center. The National Park Service has an office there. On the day of our visit Lily, an interpretive volunteer, offered us a tour of the original jail. The jail can be seen at right of center in the above photo under a newly constructed protective roof. The angle for the historic photo is a bit different, but you can see the stockade and jail in the lower right corner, with guard towers surrounding it.
The jail is a reinforced concrete structure. The windows that were once barred are now boarded over. The walls are cracked and deteriorating. Cell doors and most heavy metal items have been removed for scrap. There are cells to the right and left of the entry area and an interrogation room that opens into the entry area. In the back of the jail is an open area and an area for guards to bunk in. The back of the jail exits onto the area once surrounded by a stockade and guard towers. A cell is shown here. The metal brackets on the wall once held cables that supported the bunks the prisoners slept on.
Some of the prisoners wrote on the walls. The inscription below echoes a sentiment felt by all detainees at the center: “Show me the way to go to home.” To them, ‘home’ didn’t mean Japan, but rather San Francisco or Seattle or any of many cities on the west coast.
The sense of history, grief and hardship are strong here. One hundred and ten thousand U.S. citizens forcibly rounded up and taken from their homes, jobs and businesses and incarcerated in far away places where they had to endure indignities as if they were criminals. Detainees tried to maintain their families and communities in these harsh conditions. They created schools, worked in the fields and provided a wide variety of services to each other as shown in the photo. Notice the smiles on the ladies who worked in the barber shop. Certainly not smiles brought on by their situation, but smiles demonstrating the strength of character they brought to the circumstances.
There are no fees associated with the National Monument. The monument office is in the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair office, as is the museum. It is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day and tours of the jail are available upon request. For more information: Phone 530-260-0537.
The Monument is located about 35 miles south of Klamath Falls, Oregon and about 10 miles south of Tulelake, California. Note that the route to the Monument is Highway 39 in Oregon and Highway 139 in California. There is a rock and concrete historical marker, placed in 1979, right on the highway in front of the jail. Unless you arrive when a tour is underway, the parking area for the jail will probably be closed. Your best bet is to stop at the museum in Tulelake first, to make arrangements for your personal tour.
The National Historic Landmark Nomination Form for the Segregation Center provides information about the condition of the site and each of the associated buildings. The detail gets to the level of listing all of the graffiti from the jail walls. In addition, it includes a great deal of historical information about the entire Japanese internment episode including the politics preceding executive order 9066 and the mass arrests, life at the camp and efforts to separate the loyal from disloyal internees. It’s must reading if you really want to appreciate the history behind the Segregation Center. Click the above link to get the report in PDF format. Also check out the Park Service’s website.
This place is all about history. The combination of the museum and tours of the jail bring that history to life in a way no textbook can. As the only center of it’s kind and the unique place it played in U.S. history we can only give it a 10 in the history category. By bringing history to life, it offers a great place to educate your kids outside the confines of a classroom. The displays and artifacts in the museum and the ability to step into a jail cell should be intriguing to many kids. Views of Horse Mountain to the east (seen in the photos) along with closer views of Castle Rock and The Peninsula to the west are truly cowboy country. The variety of things to do is pretty limited to the facilities offered and it’s not a very adventurous exploration – you can drive right up to the jail and the museum. Overall, we rate this place a 5.0 out of 10. If you have been there and would like to offer your opinion, please use the comment form below.
By Jerry Haugen, Pathfinder ©2010 Global Creations LLC