relocation center

relocation center, in U.S. history, camp in which Japanese and Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II. Fearing a Japanese invasion, the military leaders, under authority of an executive order, defined (Mar., 1942) an area on the West Coast from which all persons of Japanese ancestry were to be excluded. That same month the War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created. After voluntary evacuation was prohibited, the army forcibly moved approximately 110,000 evacuees, most of whom were American citizens, to 10 relocation centers in Western states operated by the authority. Smaller numbers of Germans, Italians, and other nationalities were also interned or forcibly relocated.

Although food and shelter were provided and wages were paid to those who wished to work, living conditions were poor, and several riots occurred during the war. Separation of the loyal and disloyal began in July, 1943. Persons who could prove their loyalty and had employment waiting for them were released to live anywhere except in the proscribed area, while those deemed disloyal by the Federal Bureau of Investigation were segregated in the Tule Lake center. The majority of evacuees remained in the relocation centers until after Dec., 1944, when the mass exclusion orders were revoked. The last of the centers, at Tule Lake, was closed in Mar., 1946.

The WRA was terminated in 1946. The evacuees suffered property losses estimated at $400 million, and the government was severely criticized for depriving citizens of their civil liberties. In 1988, President Reagan signed a bill that granted the surviving Japanese-American internees a tax-free payment of $20,000 each and an apology from the U.S. government. The largest museum devoted to the history of relocation centers and an exploration of the realities of camp life is the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center (2011), a site near Cody, Wyo., where some 10,000 were housed.

See A. Girdner and A. Loftis, The Great Betrayal (1969); B. Hosokawa, Nisei (1969); R. Daniels, Concentration Camps U.S.A. (1971); G. Miller, Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (1992); G. Robinson, By Order of the President (2001).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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