Poston War Relocation Center

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Poston War Relocation Center
Detainee camp
Poston War Relocation Center
Painting of the Poston War Relocation Center painted by Japanese American Tom Tanaka while interned
Poston War Relocation Center is located in Arizona
Poston War Relocation Center
Poston War Relocation Center
Location of the camp in the state of Arizona
Coordinates: 33°59′15″N 114°24′4″W / 33.98750°N 114.40111°W / 33.98750; -114.40111Coordinates: 33°59′15″N 114°24′4″W / 33.98750°N 114.40111°W / 33.98750; -114.40111
Country United States
State Arizona
Opened 1942
Closed 1945
Founded by War Relocation Authority
Population (September, 1942)
 • Total 17,814

The Poston War Relocation Center, located in Yuma County (now in La Paz County) of southwestern Arizona, was the largest (in terms of area) of the ten American internment camps operated by the War Relocation Authority during World War II.

The Center was composed of three separate camps arranged in a chain from north to south at a distance of three miles from each other. Internees named the camps Roasten, Toastin, and Dustin, based on their desert locations. The Colorado River was approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) to the west, outside of the camp perimeter.

Poston was built on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, over the objections of the Tribal Council, who refused to be a part of doing to others what had been done to their tribe. However, officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs overrode the Council, seeing the opportunity to bring in improvements and develop agricultural land on the War Department budget and with thousands of "volunteers," which would remain after the war and aid the Reservation's permanent population.

The combined peak population of the Poston camps was over 17,000, mostly from Southern California. At the time Poston was the third largest "city" in Arizona. It was built by Del Webb who would later become famous building Sun City, Arizona, and other retirement communities. The Poston facility was named after Charles Debrille Poston, a government engineer who planned an irrigation system to serve the needs of the Indian people along the Colorado River.

A single fence surrounded all three camps, though Poston II and III did not have gatehouses. The thousands of internees and staff passed through the barbed-wire perimeter at Poston I, which was where the main administration center was located.

Poston was a subject of a sociological research by Alexander H. Leighton, published in his 1945 book, The Governing of Men. As Time Magazine wrote, "After fifteen months at Arizona's vast Poston Relocation Center as a social analyst, Commander Leighton concluded that many an American simply fails to remember that U.S. Japanese are human beings."[1]

Life at Poston[edit]

Poston Memorial Monument
The Hirano family, who was interred at Poston from 1942 to 1945. Photo from the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Perhaps the frustration felt in the concentration camps was best expressed by this anonymous poem, which was written by an internee at Poston:

That Damned Fence (anonymous)[2]

They've sunk the posts deep into the ground
They've strung out wires all the way around.
With machine gun nests just over there
And sentries and soldiers everywhere.

We're trapped like rats in a wired cage,
To fret and fume with impotent rage;
Yonder whispers the lure of the night,
But that DAMNED FENCE assails our sight.

We seek the softness of the midnight air,
But that DAMNED FENCE in the floodlight glare
Awakens unrest in our nocturnal quest,
And mockingly laughs with vicious jest.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do,
We feel terrible, lonesome, and blue:
That DAMNED FENCE is driving us crazy,
Destroying our youth and making us lazy.

Imprisoned in here for a long, long time,
We know we're punished—though we've committed no crime,
Our thoughts are gloomy and enthusiasm damp,
To be locked up in a concentration camp.

Loyalty we know, and patriotism we feel,
To sacrifice our utmost was our ideal,
To fight for our country, and die, perhaps;
But we're here because we happen to be Japs.

We all love life, and our country best,
Our misfortune to be here in the west,
To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE,
Is someone's notion of NATIONAL DEFENSE!

Unlike the nine other concentration camps, the agricultural and animal husbandry areas of Poston were within the perimeter fence.[citation needed] Schools and a number of other buildings were constructed by the internees.[citation needed] A shortage of available lumber led them to build using adobe.[citation needed] Many of the inhabitants participated and created their own recreational activities, such as the Boy Scouts, sports teams, and various jobs.[citation needed] Poston also contained poor sanitary conditions.[citation needed]

A librarian from San Diego, Clara Breed, made a point of maintaining contact with Poston camp children she had met in San Diego. She corresponded with many of them and sent them reading materials and other gifts. Their letters to her, which she saved, became an important record of life in the camps. Hundreds of "Dear Miss Breed" postcards and letters are now part of the permanent archives at the Japanese American National Museum[3] and were the basis for a 2006 book, Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, by Joanne Oppenheim.[4]

A novel by Cynthia Kadohata, Weedflower, illustrates the life of a young Japanese American girl and her family after the bombing in Pearl Harbor, when they are incarcerated at Poston.[citation needed] The book is fiction but contains facts from interviews of incarcerees and Mohave Indians that lived on the reservation.[citation needed] The passage on the back of the book reads "Twelve year old Sumiko's life can be divided into two parts: before Pearl Harbor, and after. Before the bombing, although she was lonely, she was used to being the only Japanese American in her class and she always had her family to comfort her. When the government forces all of the Japanese Americans living in California into internment camps, Sumiko soon discovers that the Japanese are just as unwanted on the Mohave reservation they have been shipped to as they were at home. But then she meets a young Mohave boy, who, after initial resentment, becomes her first real friend. Together, they navigate the racial and political challenges of the times, and both help each other understand the true meaning of friendship."[citation needed]

Poston Today[edit]

A number of buildings built for the concentration camps are still in use today. Others, while still existing, are seriously deteriorated and in desperate need of maintenance. The majority were removed after the camp closed, and many are still in use as utility buildings in surrounding areas. The residential areas have been largely converted to agricultural use.


Notable Poston internees[edit]

  • Jack Fujimoto (born 1928), the first Asian American to become president of a higher education institution in the mainland of the United States.
  • Tak Fujimoto (born 1939), an American cinematographer.
  • Frances Hashimoto (1943–2012), an American businesswoman and community activist
  • Satoshi Hirayama (born 1931), a Japanese-American baseball player who played for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan's Central League.
  • Yosh Kawano (born 1921), a clubhouse manager for the Chicago Cubs
  • Doris Matsui (born 1944), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), a prominent Japanese American artist and landscape architect.
  • Vincent Okamoto (born 1943), a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War
  • Roy I. Sano (born 1931), a retired Japanese-American Bishop of the United Methodist Church.
  • Hideo Sasaki (1919–2000), an influential American landscape architect.
  • Teru Shimada (1905–1988), a Japanese American actor.
  • Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz (born 1933), a Japanese-American artist and art educator.
  • Shinkichi Tajiri (1923–2009), was a Dutch-American sculptor.
  • Ronald Phillip Tanaka (1944–2007), was a Japanese-American poet and editor.
  • A. Wallace Tashima (born 1934), the first Japanese American to be appointed to a United States Court of Appeals.
  • Hisako Terasaki (born 1928), a Japanese American etcher.
  • Hisaye Yamamoto (1921-2011), a Japanese American writer of short stories.
  • Wakako Yamauchi (born 1924), a Japanese American playwright.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Time Magazine (1942-06-25). "Japs Are Human". Time. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  2. ^ Woll, Christine (December 2003). "That Damned Fence: Relocation Camp Life Through the Eyes of Japanese Alien and Japanese-American Poets". E-cletic 2 (1). Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  3. ^ "Clara Breed Collection". Japanese American National Museum. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Clara Breed, City Librarian, San Diego Public Library, 1945-1970.". San Diego Public Library. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  • A. A. Hansen and B. K. Mitson, 1974. Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese Evacuation. This study and many others interviewing former internees at several relocation centers are part of the research of the Japanese American World War II Evacuation History Project, at California State University, Fullerton. Professor Hansen has published extensively in this research arena.
  • For a historical interpretation by a tribal member of the Colorado River Indian Reservation, see his chapter on Poston: Dwight Lomayesva, 1981. “The Adaptation of Hopi and Navajo Colonists on the Colorado River Indian Reservation,” Master of Social Sciences Thesis (Fullerton, CA: California State University, Fullerton).

External links[edit]