1942: Developing the Topaz Community As Noted in The Topaz Times

by JESSICA BOUDAH

On September 11, 1942, the Central Utah Relocation Center – later known as Topaz for most of the Second World War – opened. The U.S. War Relocation Authority (WRA) imprisoned roughly 9,000 Japanese-American residents from the San Francisco Bay Area. Topaz, one of ten WRA incarceration camps, housed virtually all Japanese-Americans from the Bay Area by the end of the year. (Bankson)

Japanese-Americans from the San Francisco area, who had been held at Tanforan Race Track while Topaz was under construction, were transported to Delta, Utah, by train. (Beckwith) Upon the internees’ arrival at Topaz, many barracks and schools were not complete at the camp. (Beckwith) Beckwith also mentioned in her article that once situated, some internees “finished building their own barracks and other structures at the site.”

The Topaz Times, which was published at the Central Utah Relocation Center, was first published at Tanforan Assembly Center and then continued in Topaz until the camp closed in October 1945. The first issue printed in Topaz was printed on September 17, 1942. The Times was designed to inform its public on local events, community involvement, employment, education and religion.

In issue No. 1, The Topaz Times stated, “You will find various agencies of the United States Government have been mindful both of your needs and those opportunities which you desire in the fields of religion, employment, education, health and recreation.” The same article also states that the authorities of the center expected its internees to put in their best efforts in the “common objective” of developing the Topaz community to the “greatest degree possible.”

Most issues of The Topaz Times ranged from four to six pages in length. The first ten issues of the Times were called pre-issues. These pre-issues were published from September 26 to October 24, 1942. Within the first month of the camp’s opening, there was a great deal of internal action and organization necessary. As illustrated in eight of the first ten issues of The Topaz Times, there was a large amount of change in the society’s organization. In pre-issues No. 1 through 7, the main topics discussed were residential housing, education facilities and employment for internees.

With approximately 8,500 Japanese-American internees, it was deemed necessary to have immediate action on the internal organization. (Ostlund) Framework for a community council, as stated in the WRA Manual, was debated in a community meeting that was called in late September. According to an article in the pre-issue  published September 26, 1942, blocks 3, 5, 6, and 14 were to elect councilmen the following Monday. The article reported, “The vision of establishing Topaz into a model city came another step nearer to its realization as the machinery for self-government was being rapidly set up this weekend through the cooperation of the residents and the project administration.”

Association between the new community and its need for organization was an important theme in the first three pre-issues of the paper. Pre-issue No. 1 also stated that the Community Council would consist of one representative from each residential block, and later stated the members of the community council would possess some jurisdiction in the Topaz community:

“The Community Council will be authorized to ‘establish such regular and special committees and commissions as may be necessary to carry out its duties and functions or to cooperate with the Project Director in promoting the general welfare of the residents,’ according to a statement approved by Project Director Charles Ernst.” (The Topaz Times, September 26, 1942, 1)

According to an article by Clarence Ostlund, some earlier issues that faced the Community Council were: enacting a charter or constitution under which community-business could be legally transacted, labor problems, welfare and health problems, housing problems and fuel, education and recreation, work clothing problems, medical problems due to “lack of doctors,” medical supplies, equipment and hospital facilities. (Ostlund, Section I)

The issue of The Topaz Times published October 3, discussed the first eight members inducted into the Community Council in early October 1942. The new members of the Topaz Community Council were: Vernon Ichisaka (Block #3), Albert Kosakura (Block #5), Ernest Iivena (Block #6), Kay Nishida (Block #7), Dr. Carl Hirota (Block #12), Sam Yagyu (Block #13), Shinji Yamemoto (Block #14), and Paul Fuiii (Block #15). The same issue also described how the new officers repeated the following oath:

I solemnly pledge, as a member of the Community Council of Topaz, State of Utah, to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the related laws thereof. I further pledge my ideals, devotions and energy to the common welfare of all residents of this community: and to insure that my efforts will not be contrary to the basic principles of human rights.

Outlined in the October issue of the Times were the basic roles of the Topaz Community Council, which included: members were obligated to act in a legislative capacity, act in a liaison capacity, and to act in an advisory capacity.

In its first eight pre-issues, The Topaz Times also covered education – an important issue for the United States Government and the Japanese-American internees. Author Charles Wollenberg writes in the book, Schools Behind Barbed Wire, that “during WWII the United States government undertook an unusual educational enterprise – teaching students who were imprisoned behind barbed wire … an understanding of the American ideals, institutions and practices.” (210) The WRA soon found itself capable and “responsible for the education of more than 25,000 Japanese-American children,” not just at Topaz, but at other relocation centers as well. (75)

Pre-issue No. 6, published on October 10, 1942, is the first issue where we see education reach the front page of the paper. The paper reported that Robert E. Gibson, the Assistant Director of Education, would be visiting the city to assist with the “evolution of the educational curriculum” at Topaz. The issue suggested that Gibson believed that the “prevailing educational system in the average American community need[ed] reconstruction and that the WRA projects [had] the opportunity to set an example for America” in the Topaz community.

In the next issue, published on October 14, the headline read, “Housing For Schools Discussed Before First Public Hearing.” Educational systems were underway. When internees first started moving into the Topaz community, school buildings were not yet completed. The issue of the Times stated that at the public hearing, the need for an elementary and high school was deemed necessary. The same issue also discussed idyllic segmentation of the camp, and which block would be designated to which school building. The issue reports a motion by a Community Council member, Marii Kyoroku of the housing committee, who displayed a series of graphs that showed a breakdown of building space for the high school and elementary school. As written in pre-issue No. 7, “all of Block 32 be allocated to the high school” with 28 schoolrooms … and “half of Block S and half of Block 41 to the elementary school.”

The Topaz Times is extremely important to our present-day understanding and knowledge of the Relocation Center at Topaz. Now, we as researchers have the ability to understand what life was like at Topaz in 1942 through the articles and topics discussed in The Topaz Times. The development of community involvement became more prevalent within the Topaz society, as seen in the progression of the first eight issues of The Topaz Times. By 1943 camp life at Topaz “settled down” as residents got in the habit of gardening, attending classes at schools or recreation halls and working, according to an article from the Topaz Museum Web site. The Topaz Times helped develop the community life within the camp. By promoting community involvement with elections for the Community Council, and developing space for both an elementary school and a high school, The Topaz Times reassured the internees that Topaz was a “model city” and it would be developed into the greatest city possible – as stated in the first issue of The Topaz Times: Jewel of the Desert.

Jessica Boudah is a senior at the University of Utah, planning to graduate at the end of fall semester 2010. She is a mass communication major in the strategic communication sequence. Jess is originally from Burlington, Vermont, a small, idyllic town, also home to the University of Vermont. Currently, Jess works for the Salt Lake City School District as a tutor at Highland High School. She plans to acquire her master’s degree in education after receiving her bachelor’s degree in communication from The University of Utah.

Sources

Bankson, Russell A. “Guide to the Records of the United States War Relocation Authority Central Utah Project 1941-1945.” University of Washington Library.

Jane Beckwith. “Topaz Relocation Center.” Utah History Encyclopedia.

Clarence Ostlund, ed. “War Relocation Authority Central Utah Project Topaz, Utah.” Online Archive of California. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

“Greetings,” The Topaz Times, September 17, 1942, 1.

“Blocks 3, 5, 6, 14 to Elect Councilmen Next Monday,” The Topaz Times, September 26, 1942, 1.

“The City,” The Topaz Times, September 26, 1942, 1.

“More on Elections,” The Topaz Times, September 26, 1942, 3.

“Induction of 7 Councilmen Slated for 7:30 Tonight,” The Topaz Times, September 30, 1942,1.

“More on Community Council,” The Topaz Times, September 30, 1942, 5.

“Eight Representatives Take Council Oath Wednesday,” The Topaz Times, October 3, 1942, 1.

“More on Induction,” The Topaz Times, October 3, 1942, 2.

“Education,” The Topaz Times, October 10, 1942, 1.

“Housing for Schools Discussed Before First Public Hearing,” The Topaz Times, October 14, 1942, 1.

“Education,” The Topaz Times, October 14, 1942, 2.

Charles Wollenberg. “Schools Behind Barbed Wire.” California Historical Quarterly 55 (1976): 210-217.


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