"Suffering Under a Great Injustice": Ansel Adams's Photographs of
Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar
About a month after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, an agency called the War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created to manage the evacuation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. In September 1943 the WRA began efforts to depopulate the internment camps by relocating residents with good records to the interior United States. Adams quotes the President’s announcement of the new policy:
'With the segregation of the disloyal evacuees in a separate center, the War Relocation Authority proposes now to redouble its efforts to accomplish the relocation into normal homes and jobs in communities throughout the United States, but outside the evacuated area, of those Americans of Japanese ancestry whose loyalty to this country has remained unshaken through the hardships of the evacuation which military necessity made unavoidable.'
The WRA began by granting students, linguists, and agricultural workers temporary leave from internment camps. They also placed field agents in certain cities to locate job opportunities for Japanese-American evacuees. When these field agents discovered an opportunity for employment in a community that seemed friendly towards Japanese Americans, they forwarded information to the internment camps. Residents who followed up on these leads and negotiated a job with an employer were granted permanent leave to relocate if their behavior records were approved.
Adams photographed job boards at Manzanar. He also photographed Manzanar residents preparing to leave for relocation and makes reference throughout Born Free and Equal to relocated residents such as Yuichi and Fumiko Hirata.
- What does the caption of the photograph of the departing residents suggest about relocation?
- What do you think would have been the pros and cons of relocating from an internment camp? How do you think you would have felt about relocating if you were an evacuee?
- How do you think the relocation of evacuees might have contributed to the culture of Manzanar?
Adams reports on the progress of relocation in a section called "The Problem."
Certain areas of the Midwest have been especially tolerant toward the relocating people. Early in 1944 Illinois had absorbed more than 4,000. There has been practically no opposition in that state. However, in more westerly states, opposition has been intense; petitions, press campaigns, and legislation, mostly unconstitutional, have combined to create a truly regrettable stain on the record of our democracy.
Read the rest of this section in which Adams explores the question of "What is going to happen to these people when the war is over and the stress and turmoil of relocation is a thing of the past?"
- What does Adams mean when he writes that "The spirit of Jim Crow walks in almost every section of our land?"
- What reasons does Adams give for intolerance of Japanese Americans in certain areas of the U.S.?
- Why does Adams think that "the scattering of the loyal Japanese-Americans throughout the country is far better for them than re-concentration into racial districts and groups"? Do you agree with him?
- Why doesn’t Adams put much hope in political means of protecting Japanese Americans from injustice?
- What does Adams suggest should be done in order to insure justice and equality for Japanese Americans?
- Do you think that the relocation process adequately provided for the 117,000 people that had been forced to evacuate their homes?