Creating a National Historic Landmark: The Poston Internment Camp Journey

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata This YA book is set in the Poston Internment camp

Dear Students,

In the Fall of 2011 the National Park Service met to vote on new National Landmarks. One of them is on the border of Arizona, near Yuma.. At one time, this area was the 3rd largest city in Arizona, home to 18,000 Japanese families, interned by Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt in February of 1942.

photograph by George Watson, Los Angeles Times

The Poston Camps I, II and III were nearly erased. Of the three sprawling internment camps that filled the region, most of the signs are gone.

Panorama of the Poston War Relocation Center photo by George Watson, Los Angeles Times

The educational facilities at Poston were designed and built by the interned Japanese Americans using adobe bricks they manufactured themselves. The barracks were built by Del Webb, the same builders who created the Sun City retirement community. The searing heat and short time table created special challenges for the builders and the residents. Behind that fact is a story about children without a home or school who had to build one first in the baking desert heat. Evacuees nicknamed the three camps Roasten, Toasten and Dustin.

Back to Poston photo by Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

Above-ground evidence of the camps, such as foundations and roads, has been obscured. Units II and III at Poston do not have sufficient integrity to be considered for NHL designation. You can follow the journey of this site to a National Historic Landmark as it unfolds on the blog Poston Camp Updates.

“Friendship Knot”, Shinkichi Tajiri (Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA)

World renowned sculptor Shinkichi Tajiri‘s was interned with his family at the Poston camp. He enlisted as a volunteer from camp and fought bravely for the 442 infantry regiment. His career included sketching concentration camp prisoners following the war, photographing the Berlin Wall and sculpture series that featured knots. He lived in extraordinary times and rose to meet them.

If you drive through the area to look for the camp you can witness it’s evolution as it makes a journey to confirmed National Historic Landmark. So far the community of camp families and friends have achieved the following:

  • 2003-Grant funding from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Colorado River Indian Tribe Education Department and private donations funded a Strategic Visioning Session.
  • 2004- The Colorado River Indian Tribal Council passed a resolution dedicating 40 acres for the historic preservation of the Poston confinement site. (Poston camp I site)
  • 2009- Grant funding from the U.S. National Park Service for collecting and digitizing oral histories, is now being completed.
  • 2010-Grant funding from the U.S. National Park Service for relocation and rehabilitation of a barrack obtained.
  • 2010-Grant funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the barrack relocation project obtained.
  • 2011-Grant funding from the U.S. National Park Service for production of the documentary, “Poston’s Mothers and Babies: A Film on Domestic Life in Camp”

Do you think it is important to save the story of Poston Internment Camp, why or why not?

With liberty and justice for all,
Mrs. Kenney

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