Japanese Americans were incarcerated there during World War II
After the start of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order gave the military commander in certain designated areas the authority to remove any persons from their homes to be placed in what are now called “American concentration camps.” People of Japanese heritage from the West Coast of the United States were forced to leave their homes and be unjustly incarcerated in one of the ten camps. Most were prisoners for the duration of the war. There were 120,000 persons affected by the order.
One of the camps was built in the desert near Delta, Utah. It was named Topaz for the nearby Topaz Mountain. There were two camps in California, two in Arizona two in Arkansas, one in Colorado, one in Idaho, and one in Wyoming in addition to the Topaz Camp.
The Topaz Camp was opened on September 11, 1942, when the first prisoners arrived. It was closed on October 31, 1945. The peak population at the camp was a little over 8,100.
After the Topaz Camp was closed, the buildings were dismantled or moved to other locations. Some local farmers purchased barracks to be used as farm buildings. There are a few foundations, but not much else remains at the site from those years.
A committee of people who were incarcerated at the camp, their descendants, and local residents have worked to preserve some of the history of the Topaz Camp. There have been monuments erected at the site. The Topaz Museum is located in the city of Delta, which is about twenty minutes by car away from the site of the camp. President of the organization and the person running the museum is Jane Beckwith, a local resident and teacher, who has worked on the Topaz Camp and museum for many years.
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the oldest and largest Asian American civil and human rights organization in the United States, erected a monument near the site of the Topaz Camp in 1976. President Ronald Reagan signed a redress bill into law on August 10, 1988, which allowed for an apology to all those who had been incarcerated along with some token compensation to the survivors.
The Topaz site was listed as a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service in 2007. The new Topaz Museum opened in 2017 with interpretive exhibits to tell the history about the incarceration of ethnic Japanese people, citizens and immigrants, during World War II.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), a commission set up by Congress to study the incarceration, issued its findings in 1983. They determined that the causes of the unjust incarceration were due to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
After the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a formal apology letter and compensation were sent by President George H. W. Bush to all the remaining survivors who had been forcibly removed from their homes during World War II simply because of their heritage. Two thirds of those incarcerated were American citizens.
As a means of telling the history and trying to ensure that such an act will never happen again to citizens of the United States, the Topaz Museum staff and board, along with people representing the other camps, are trying to keep the history alive.
The Topaz Camp was an area of 19,800 acres. The Topaz Museum Board, a nonprofit, volunteer organization, owns 634 acres of the one square mile of the Topaz site. The address of the monument site is 10750 West 4500 North. Visiting the Topaz Museum at 55 West Main in Delta is recommended before traveling to the Topaz site. There is staff at the museum who can provide guided tours of the site upon request. Information can be obtained by calling (435) 864-2514 or by visiting their website.
If you are looking for a summer activity for family and friends, a visit to the Topaz Museum and the Topaz Camp site in Delta, Utah, are recommended. It is about a two hour drive from Salt Lake City. It is a chance to learn about American history and to get a little taste of the experiences of the people who were incarcerated in that desolate area.
There may be fresh air, sunshine, a beautiful sky, and clouds, but the people had lost their freedom. They were held behind barbed wire with armed, military guards watching over them. The winters were harsh, and the summers were brutal with the heat. There were regular dust storms. Their living conditions were primitive, crowded, and uncomfortable. These were people who were forced from their comfortable homes with modern conveniences to live in barracks.
Many people in Utah are not aware that the Topaz Camp exists. Some may not even know about that dark part of American history. Visiting the Topaz Camp is a good educational experience for children and for adults.
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