In the early months of 1942 over 110,000 Japanese of American ancestry were notified of their removal to internment camps throughout the United States.
Noted documentary photographer Dorthea Lange was hired by U. S. War Relocation Authority to photograph the process of imprisonment of U. S. citizens.
Caught up in the war fever that followed the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese military, the racial tension was fed by government and media outlets nationwide.
Lange traveled California documenting the removal and processing of these ‘prisoners’ in what were called Assembly Centers. The Centers Lange visited in California were primarily in Bay Area and from Sacramento to Tulare.
In Pinedale, just north of Fresno, people were forced into massive wooden warehouses known to the internees as “Hell’s Acre”. A second Assembly Center was the Fresno County Fairgrounds.
Inside the Pinedale Center sheets were strung between the large wooden pillars for the semblance of privacy.
Temperatures could rise to 120 degrees in the shade.
“It was a terrible hot place to live.“ said Hatsumi Nishimoto. “The buildings in the summer were so hot when we put our hands on the bedsteads, the paint would come off.”
During the hot summer nights, some people would pour water on the floors and then sleep on the wet concrete to try and stay cool.
In 2007 the last of these cavernous warehouses was scheduled to be demolished. Efforts to save the building as a historical landmark failed.
The National Archives commissioned local photographer, Rich Milhorn to document the building and I was fortunate to accompanied him.
I do not know if Dorthea Lange visited this particular building or even if it was, in fact, used during the relocation period. Many believe that it was therefore witness to history and stood for many as a reminder of a darker time.
It is my hope that these last photographs, taken days before it was destroyed, will stand as a latter day testament to the injustice that occurred here.