The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 threw America into a state of shock. American patriotism turned to anger and resentment, often directed at Japanese Americans in the western part of the country. On December 8th, 1941, the United States declared war against Japan. The United States government posted the first “Civilian Exclusion Orders” on Bainbridge Island, and on March 30th, 1942, armed military personnel escorted 227 men, women, and children of Japanese descent from the island onto the ferry Kehloken. Able to take only what they could carry, these Japanese Americans were sent to an internment camp in Manzanar, California.
There were as many as 10,000 people in Manzanar at one time, most of them spending as long as three and a half years in the 504 barracks of the camp. Yet despite having been uprooted from their homes, Manzanar’s inhabitants exhibited astounding resilience. They maintained a successful self-governing community complete with farming, schools, churches, a cooperative bank and store, and a newspaper. In the summer of 1943, well-known photographer Ansel Adams agreed to visit and document life at Manzanar with a camera. These 244 rich images, many portraits of Japanese internees, were published in his 1944 book “Born Free and Equal”. The book was initially ill-received by the public and the photographs remained virtually unseen until the late 1980s.
BIHM’s award-winning exhibit “Ansel Adams – Portrait of Manzanar” displays some of these striking images which capture the daily lives of Japanese Americans at this troubling time in American history.