We are actively working to preserve the physical artifacts as well as the stories and memories of life in one of America's concentration camps located at Poston, Arizona. It was named "Poston" or the "Colorado River Relocation Center", located on the Colorado River Indian Reservation during World War II. The Poston Community Alliance is a 501(c)(3)non-profit group.
On March 18, 1942, President Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and appointed Milton Eisenhower, Director in the in the Department of Agriculture. Earlier that year, Vice President Henry Wallace a cabinet meeting recommended President Roosevelt appoint John Collier as Director of the War Relocation Authority, in charge of the Japanese-American internment, "because of his expertise in community living". (1) However, John Collier was Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Roosevelt, and Milton Eisenhower was appointed Director of the WRA.
John Collier was in charge of nearly 20,000 Japanese-American inmates incarcerated at the Colorado River Indian reservation near Poston, Arizona. Eventually, Collier had afalling out with Eisenhower's successor, Dillon Seymour Myer, who became WRA Director on June 17, 1942. Dillon S. Myer envisioned the eventual dispersal of all Japanese-American prisoners throughout America to prevent their return to the "Little Tokyos" on the West Coast. (2)
However, John Collier had his own plans to use the Japanese-Americans at Poston in "social experiments." It involved converting 25,000 acres of land into productive farm land that would produce surplus food to feed American troops. Collier told the internees that this experiment in communal living could raise their morale and restore their faith in democracy, and at the same time it would demonstrate to other Americans "the efficiency and splendor of the cooperative way of living". (3)
John Collier envisioned Poston becoming a "social science research laboratory", which might yield "scientific results" which could then be applied to "American administration of former Japanese islands in the Pacific Ocean." (4)
Dillon S. Meyer
A Hearst newspaper article dated March 23, 1942, alleged that the evacuees would be paid more than American soldiers "fighting the country's battles overseas." Milton Eisenhower agreed that the evacuees' income should not exceed the soldiers' base pay. ($21/month.) The base pay for privates increased to $50/month, however, the evacuee pay scale remained: $12 for unskilled labor, $16 for skilled labor, and $19 for professional employees. The wages in the WRA camps were an insult to many evacuees. For example, a non-Japanese librarian working in the camp earned $167/month while her evacuee staff received no more than $16/month. (5)
Milton Eisenhower had a plan to use the Japanese-American prisoners as a segregated labor force outside the camps. Following his appointment as WRA Director, a program for the employment of Japanese-Americans was developed and a meeting was held at Salt Lake City of April 7, 1942 with officials of 10 Western states.
Milton Eisenhower's program included:
1. Public works, such as land development
2. Agricultural production within relocation areas
3. Manufacturing within relocation areas
4. Private employment
5. Private resettlement.
At the conference, Milton Eisenhower made an attempt to integrate the Japanese-Americans into agricultural work projects outside the designated military zones in the Western states. After he presented this plan to the governors of 10 Western states, they all categorically rejected his plea to allow Japanese-Americans to relocate in their states, with the exception of Governor Carr of Colorado. The Western governors felt that if the Japanese-Americans population represented a danger to the West coast, they also would be a danger to the other states as well. Basically, the governors wanted nothing to do with the "Japanese problem." After this failure to create segregated work projects, permanent detention camps became the only solution until such time as new locations outside the military zones, could be found for the tens of thousands of Japanese-American families. (6)
John Collier devoted 25 years to working for the Indian and was alarmed by the general trends of U.S. Indian policy in the late 1940's and 1950's. He was concerned that many reforms instituted while he was Commissioner of Indian Affairs were being abandoned and that treaties were in danger of cancelled. Collier and the National Indian Institute were flooded in legislation which threatened Indian treaty rights, lands, and civil liberties. Perhaps the most serious threat, was the "termination" bills that were part of the government's policy in the 1950's to end federal responsibilities for Indian tribes. The Institute worked hard to modify or defeat a number of these bills and, in addition, proposed legislation of its own. One bill proposed by the Institute would have required the consent of Indian tribes before any change was made in their relationship with the federal government.
John Collier and the National Indian Institute also followed the activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He was strongly opposed to the policies of Dillon S. Meyer, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the early 1950's and a leading proponent of the "termination" program that were part of the government's policy to end federal responsibilities for Indian tribes.Collier and Meyer were in a dispute over proposed attorney contract regulations that would have restricted Indian tribal rights to freely retain attorneys of their choice.
Primary sources: Francis Feeley. The Idealogical Uses of JAs in US Concentration Camps".
Available at: http://www.paradigme.com/sources/SOURCES-PDF/Pages%20de%20Sources04-1-3.pdf
1. Kenneth Philip. John Collier's Crusade for Indian Reform. (Tucson, AZ., 1977) pp. 208-209.
2. Ibid., p. 209.
5. Tetsuden Kashima. Personal Justice Denied:Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, pp. 166-167, and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi . Inside An American Concentration Camp, p. 39, footnote #4.
6. "A Chronology of Evacuation and Relocation" in Quarterly Report of the War Relocation Authority. March 18-June 30, 1942. Government Printing Office. p. 3.