TULE LAKE PRESERVATION: A progress report

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Tule Lake Stockade and Jail (above) CalTrans photo by Don Tateishi

Tule Lake Stockade and Jail (above) CalTrans photo  by Don Tateishi
Tule Lake Stockade and Jail.
CalTrans photoby Don Tateishi

Tule Lake’s segregation history resonates with America’s deepest held beliefs — about standing up for one’s convictions and challenging those who have abused power. Yet, perversely, due to lingering World War II propaganda that cast Japanese American challengers to the unjust incarceration as disloyal subversives, our community has been slow to recognize courageous individual responses to our government’s abuse of power.

To this day, Japanese Americans are burdened with the internalized stereotypes of loyalty and disloyalty created by racist government wartime propaganda. In future years, however, that may change.

Earlier this year, following advocacy by the Tule Lake Committee and the National Parks Conservation Association, the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument received notice of approved annual base funding as a National Park site. With its own annual budget, the Tule Lake Unit will be better able to initiate the park planning and staff research and outreach work needed to develop the Tule Lake Unit.

This fall, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the Tule Lake Unit, led a team of NPS staffers to begin preliminary information gathering and outreach, meeting with Tule Lake survivors and Nikkei advocates in Seattle, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif., San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Gardena, Calif.

In the summer of 2013, the National Park Service will begin a comprehensive General Management Planning process that will gather input from stakeholders, identify historic and cultural resources and lay the groundwork to develop a National Park site that will reveal Tule Lake’s complex history to the general public.

“We’ll do our best to get as many people involved as possible,” says Reynolds, who notes that the comprehensive General Management Planning process typically takes between three to five years. In the meantime, the NPS Tule Lake Unit will continue to host school group tours and the friends and relatives of former Tule Lake inmates, as well as a wide ranging assortment of visitors, while working to build a community of support for the site.

Preserving Tule Lake’s Historic Resources
Tule Lake was unique as the only War Relocation Authority concentration camp that was converted into a high security segregation center. Contributing to its interpretation as a maximum-security segregation center, Tule Lake has the symbolically evocative resources of three detention areas — prisons within the prison — where the rule of law did not exist. These detention areas include the Army stockade, the jail, and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp known as Camp Tulelake, located approximately 10 miles from the main Tule Lake concentration camp site.

Camp Tulelake
Camp Tulelake was the detention site where the Army threatened and imprisoned more than 100 young men who refused to cooperate with the government’s demand they answer the loyalty questions.

Threatened with charges of violating the Espionage Act and fines of $10,000 and sentences of 20 years in prison, in later years these protesters learned the threats were all untrue.

The NPS is preparing to restore the heavily damaged barrack building at Camp Tulelake, where the loyalty questionnaire resisters were imprisoned for several months. “The barracks are in danger of falling down,” says Reynolds.

He noted that the Tule Lake Committee obtained a $25,000 grant from the McConnell Foundation, and that it will be applied toward repairs and making the barrack ADA accessible, and to develop interpretive panels for the Camp Tulelake barrack. The Tule Lake Unit also received extra funds from the NPS to complete emergency stabilization for the barracks and other structures on the site. The barracks had multiple uses, including use as housing for several hundred Japanese American strikebreakers from other WRA camps used to undermine a farm strike at the mismanaged Tule Lake segregation center.

The Stockade
The stockade area is a central part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark. Now an open field, this 17-acre area was the site of a hastily assembled prison camp where several inmates were tortured and brutalized the week before martial law was declared in November of 1943.

More than 200 men were imprisoned for months in the stockade for, the Army noted, crimes that included: “general troublemaker,” or “definitely a leader of the wrong kind,” or “doesn’t believe in obeying orders.”

A historic barbed-wire fence still surrounds the stockade and the State Historic Landmark plaque on State Highway 139 marks the stockade’s western-most boundary. The stockade is adjacent to the motor pool area; neither area has undergone a thorough evaluation.

The Jail
The concrete jail at the back of the barbed wire fence surrounding the stockade was constructed in the fall of 1944. It was used to imprison American citizens who were stripped of their U.S. citizenship and slated for deportation to Japan, converted into “enemy aliens” — the result of the Renunciation Act of 1944, another law created to disenfranchise Japanese Americans.

Preparations are under way to begin the jail’s restoration. The first phase of the jail restoration was completed in 2011 with a $40,000 grant from the NPS Japanese American Confinement Sites program and a $20,000 matching grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program. The two grants paid an architectural firm to complete a Historic Structures Report, a mandatory and preliminary step in restoring a significant historic structure like the jail.

With the HSR in hand, the Tule Lake Committee is preparing for the second phase of the jail restoration, seeking a Japanese American Confinement Sites grant to complete the environmental compliance and construction planning so that the jail project will be “shovel ready” for the third and final phase of construction and restoration.

The NPS recently received a donation of the jail’s metal infrastructure that had been removed and sold as scrap metal by the Bureau of Reclamation. The donation was made by a local farmer whose family saved the cell bars, doors and bunks for more than six decades. “The significance of these pieces goes beyond serving as part of a building,” explained Reynolds. “They symbolize the experiences of those who lived behind barbed wire and metal bars without recourse.”

Paint and Carpenter Shed — One of Tule Lake’s First Buildings
In 2006 a 42-acre portion of the Tule Lake Segregation Center was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of significance that the nation gives to a historic site. This official recognition of the history of thousands of Japanese American dissidents was a major step toward reclaiming the marginalized story of Japanese American protest.

The NHL designation included the infamous stockade and the jail along with another structure, the paint and carpenter shed (adjacent to the stockade area) that was among the first buildings constructed in 1942.

The Tule Lake Committee is pleased that in the spring of 2012, the National Park Service completed the restoration of one of the first structures built at the Tule Lake site, the paint and carpenter’s shed.

The restoration cost of $394,116 was paid primarily by funds secured by the Tule Lake Committee. The project received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant from the U.S. Department of Interior, matched by the California Cultural and Historic Endowment, the California Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, and support from numerous individual donors.

Looking ahead to 2013, the Tule Lake Committee celebrates the milestones that advocates of Tule Lake have gained over the decade. We are optimistic that progress on the wartime concentration camp will alter the distorted Japanese American narrative and hope that Tule Lake’s preservation will have widespread support from the Nikkei community.

For persons interested in assisting the NPS efforts as a temporary or seasonal worker or as a volunteer, Supt. Reynolds suggests checking Facebook for the Tule Lake Unit, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument for job announcements and news.

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