In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II.
Long before the first incarcerees arrived in March 1942, Manzanar was home to Native Americans, who lived mostly in villages near several creeks in the area. Ranchers and miners formally established the town of Manzanar in 1910, but abandoned the town by 1929 after the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights to virtually the entire area
After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Government swiftly moved to begin solving the “Japanese Problem” on the West Coast of the United States. In the evening hours of that same day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested selected “enemy” aliens, including more than 5,500 Issei men.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded. This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens.
Manzanar was the first of the ten concentration camps to be established. Initially, it was a temporary “reception center”, known as the Owens Valley Reception Center from March 21, 1942, to May 31, 1942. The Owens Valley Reception Center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, 1942, and officially became the “Manzanar War Relocation Center.” The first Japanese American incarcerees to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp. By mid–April, up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July, the population of the camp neared 10,000. Over 90 percent of the incarcerees were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California; and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Many were farmers and fishermen. Manzanar held 10,046 incarcerees at its peak, and a total of 11,070 people were incarcerated there.