Ten weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and amid widespread anti-Japanese hysteria, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, providing the legal basis for the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans at ten War Relocation Authority “Relocation Centers.”
In the single largest compulsory relocation in U.S. history, the government forced Nikkei (Japanese American citizens and legal resident aliens of Japanese ancestry) to leave their homes, jobs and businesses and live in camps under armed guard. Located on an isolated site in rural, south central Idaho, the Minidoka Relocation Center (also called the Hunt Camp) operated from August 1942 to October 1945. The complex held approximately 13,000 internees from Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska, and included 600 buildings, five miles of barbed wire fencing, and eight guard towers. Although the camp was disassembled in 1945, several key structures, numerous archaeological features, and important cultural landscape elements remain to tell the story. Minidoka also serves as an important commemorative site for thousands of former internees and their families who memorialize the wartime hardships and sacrifices of Japanese Americans by making an annual pilgrimage to the site.
The historic significance of the Minidoka Relocation Center is well-recognized. Six acres of the site were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and the camp site was named an Idaho Centennial Site in 1990. In 2001, 72.75 acres at the core of the former camp was designated a National Monument under the management of the National Park Service (NPS). Since designation, supporters of Minidoka have been engaged in a comprehensive planning process for the development and interpretation of the site, working with interested citizens through a public consultation process. The recently completed General Management Plan envisions a reconstructed barracks complex, and interpretation of the camp’s history as well as the nearby “Farm in a Day” site. However, plans are now significantly threatened by nearby development, proposed under current local land use regulations. Just last year, residents of Jerome County had to fight the proposed siting of a coal-fired power plant that would have posed a significant environmental threat and severely hampered the visitor experience at Minidoka.
Now the site is similarly threatened by a proposal to develop a 13,000-head dairy heifer replacement facility approximately 1.25 miles upwind from the national monument. A concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) of this magnitude would have a dramatic adverse effect on the monument, and seriously degrade the visitor experience by introducing strong and offensive odors, flies, and other insects. Other risks to the site and visitors include airborne pathogens and dust.
“Minidoka testifies to a dark period in American history. Although the forced relocation of thousands of American citizens was an unprecedented violation of constitutional rights, few at the time raised their voices to protest,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Sixty-five years after they were stripped of their dignity and their freedom, former internees and their descendants may now be stripped of this evocative link to their place in American history, and we can’t stand by and let that happen.”
Listed on the America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2007
Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places as a powerful alarm to raise awareness of the serious threats facing the nation’s greatest treasures. While a listing does not ensure the protection of a site or guarantee funding, the designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites in every region of the country. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. For more information, visit www.nationaltrust.org/11most.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Its Washington, DC, headquarters staff, six regional offices and 28 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of local community groups in all 50 states. For more information, visit the Trust’s web site at www.nationaltrust.org.