Tule Lake Segregation Center

In addition to its status as a War Relocation Center, the Japnese-American internment camp at Tule Lake also became a segregation center during WWII. It once was home to about a thousand barracks where families lived.

Tule Lake was the last of the federal government's internment camps to close. It housed German POWs between 1944-1946.

This composite image combines two scenes—one as the site currently appears, and the other as it appeared during the war. The image is by Kyle Deas whose 16 March 2015 story, on Tule Lake, is entitled "A Frozen Sadness."

The National Park Service tells us more about the Tule Lake internment facility (and how it became a segregation center during the war):

Isolated in northern California, the Tule Lake area is remote and self-sustained by farming, which made the area fit the War Relocation Authority’s [WRA] ideal model for a relocation camp. Set on over 7,400 acres, the Tule Lake complex included the typical infrastructure of a normal American town with a post office, high school, hospital, cemetery, several factory and warehouse buildings, two sewage treatment plants, and over 3,500 acres of irrigated farmland made available by the efforts of the CCC.

During the Tule Lake Segregation Center’s tenure, roughly four years, nearly 1,500 babies were born and over 300 people died. At its peak capacity, Tule Lake was the temporary home to more than 18,000 internees and 1,200 soldiers.

To accommodate these individuals the camp had 1,036 barrack dorms, 518 latrines, and 144 administrative and support buildings. Today, over 50 of these buildings still stand, including the original Stockade (or “prison within a prison”), the WRA Motor Pool, the Post Engineer’s Yard and Motor Pool, over 1800 feet of the chain link, barbwire-topped “man-proof” fence, and a small part of the Military Police Compound.

In the summer of 1943, Tule Lake Relocation Center received a designation from the War Relocation Authority [WRA] that set it apart from the other nine Japanese American internment camps in a dramatic fashion. The WRA determined that it needed a specific location for those deemed “disloyals,” otherwise known as a segregation camp.

As a relocation center, Tule Lake had six guard towers, but by the end of its transformation into a segregation center, it had 28 towers supported by eight tanks and a copious number of machine guns. Tule Lake’s population underwent a dramatic alteration as well.

To make room for the intake of more “disloyals,” those deemed loyal were asked to relocate. Approximately 6000 internees did move out, but another 4000 loyals decided they did not want to move again. This created a unique combination of “old Tuleans,” who knew the administration and had often suffered at its hands, with disloyals. In this politically charged atmosphere, it did not take very long for internees to test the newly formed segregation camp’s authority.

On October 15, 1943, a truck carrying agricultural workers across the relocation center tipped over resulting in the death of one internee. After the discovery that his widow’s benefits only amounted to two-thirds of the monthly rate of $16, and that the truck driver was underage, the internees became incensed at the failure of the camp’s administration.

Without proper approval, they held an elaborate impromptu funeral in the deceased’s honor; ten days later, the agricultural workers went on strike. The workers quickly formed a negotiating committee, Daihyo Sha Kai, and sent their envoy to meet with Director Raymond Best to resolve the issues.

Best’s cordial attitude left the workers feeling confident, but just two days after the meeting, the administration announced the firing of all agricultural workers and brought in strikebreakers from other internment camps. After several outbreaks of violence, Director Best declared martial law resulting in the arrest of 250 internees, including many of the Daihyo Sha Kai leaders. Those who were arrested were housed in the newly constructed Stockade.

The Stockade was an area of 250 by 350 feet, enclosed with fences and four guard towers. Contained within were four barracks, a mess hall, and a latrine. This “prison within a prison” completely shut off the main “troublemakers” from the rest of the population. All outer fences had wooden boards covering them (which have since been removed), so that internees could not communicate with those outside of the Stockade.

Today, one cell building still stands. Littered with graffiti, including names, dates, poems, and drawings, the cell walls bear witness to the inmates’ struggles during one of the saddest chapters of American history.

Finally closed in March of 1946, seven months after the end of World War II, Tule Lake Segregation Center housed the largest number of internees and had the most dynamic political atmosphere of any Japanese American internment camp; its life also extended beyond any other. Returning the site to its original purpose just two months after the segregation camp closed, the Tulelake Growers Association began to work the land again utilizing the discarded remnants of the camp to house migrant laborers.

In 1975, the State of California registered Tule Lake as a California State Historic Landmark, thereby recognizing its historic significance. In 1979, an elaborate monument was erected adjacent to the highway entrance and in front of the Stockade commemorating those who suffered while at Tule Lake.

In 1982, the Federal Government admitted that prejudice, wartime hysteria, and politics all contributed to the relocation, and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided redress to the Japanese Americans who suffered internment.

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush formally apologized on behalf of the United States. By Presidential Proclamation in December 2008, the Tule Lake Segregation Center and Camp Tulelake, the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite, became the Tule Lake Unit within the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The Tule Lake Segregation Center is the place where George Takei—best known as "Mr. Sulu," of Star Trek fame—was forced to move, as a child, after the U.S. federal government considered his father to be "disloyal."

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 20, 2017

Updated Last Revision: Sep 01, 2017

Media Credits

Kyle Deas combined a current photo of Tule Lake with a war-era photo to create this composite image.


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Tule Lake Segregation Center" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 20, 2017. Jan 21, 2019.
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