Building a community under crisis

This is the story of Tule Lake. Tule Lake was an American concentration camp where Americans of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned during World War II behind barbed wire and guard towers without charge, trial or established guilt. Tule lake is a saga about people who found many ways to build a sense of identity and a sense of community under duress. As the war between Japan and the United States intensified, so did the prejudice against anyone who was identified as Japanese.

May 27, 1942, people of Japanese ancestry were ordered to register for evacuation to one of ten relocation centers in the United States. Businesses such as the Rafu Shimpo newspaper were closed. This family, whose father had already been sent to Bismark internment camp, evacuated their home while others waited for trains and busses that took them to assembly centers, to a new home that just two days before had been a horse stall such as this one at Tanforan. It was difficult to explain the uprooting. Harvey Itano received the University Medal as the Outstanding 1942 graduate at the University of California, Berkeley. U.C. President Robert Sproul announced at his graduation, "Harvey cannot be here today because his country has called him elsewhere" Elsewhere was the Wallerga Assembly Center in Sacramento.

The town of Tule Lake was established by homesteaders farming the lake bottom land administered by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. To the southwest lies the Lava Beds National Monument and further in the distance looms the peaks of Mount Shasta. The two most prominent landmarks visible from the Tule Lake camp are Castle Rock to the west and Abalone Mountain to the east. The evacuees to Tule Lake included an advance party from the Puyallup and Portland assembly centers. The majority of the first year Tuleans came from three assembly centers in California: Sacramento, Marysville, and Pinedale. By the end of summer 1942, Tule Lake's population reach 16,000 and Tule Lake became a boom town. Unlike other boom towns, Tuleans conserved whatever they had. People had to compete for scrap wood to make furniture and playground equipment.

On July 1, 1942, the first child was born in Tule Lake and named Newall Noda.

Tuleans also dealt with script and ration coupons. A branch of the Bank of America announces its hours for the two days that it is open. Compared to the bank, business is better at Canteen Number 1.

Tule Lake's farms produced crops for the camp and for other relocation centers. Turnips are topped in the packing shed and potatoes get harvested. Tule Lake also had its own bacon and egg factory. Harry Nakino from Sacramento directed the camp's poultry farm.


The first year's harvest from the camp was celebrated with a harvest festival on October 31. Booths were set up for games and activities. Food stands did a booming business, at this and other festivities. Profits from Block 27's hamburger stand went towards a barbell set, and from these weight lifting sessions in the block's ironing room came the future Mr. America and three-time Olympic medalist, Tommy Kono.


Programs in music and theater got started. Exhibits were held and churches were organized, as were schools. This is a group of students attending a high school class in history and English held in these barracks which serve as the high school, yet unnamed.

 

Reporting on all the activities in the camp is The Tulean Dispatch. A cartoon from the Dispatch captures the rough mood of the weather and the camp. As the rain came, the grounds turned to mud. Winter came early and was a cold and new experience, especially for those from southern California. Coal kept the barracks warm. Truck crews load up at Staley Junction. Men from the motor pool gather around a potbellied stove, a familiar sight in the barracks.

January 1943 saw some early departures. This is a group of students, people with job prospects on the outside and transfers to the Topaz Center bidding farewell to their friends. Earlier in the fall, others were permitted outside on temporary leave to harvest sugar beets in Idaho.


As people settled in, organizations developed - including clubs for young people. Sports attracted attention. This team from Block 9 won the first camp marathon. A boxing tournament in March involved teams like the Pensioneers.


Tuleans improvised ways to improve the appearance of their barracks using materials of all sorts from who knows where.


The camp high school, now named Tri-State High, was completed. The American school was one to the few instances where Tuleans had contact with non-Japanese. A talent show raised funds for the first Tri-State High School Commencement, held in July 1943.

The outside world was curious about the camps. A special visit was arranged for 19 journalists, representing newspapers, magazines, newsreels and the Office of War Relocation. They came to describe and document life in the camps and in May 1943, articles appeared in Life and Pathe-RKO newsreels.

 

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This page was last modified on Tuesday, July 28, 1998