Some clouds

Golis: Shame in remote places

  • The cemetery at the Manzanar interment camp with Mount Williamson in the background. (PETE GOLIS / For The Press Democrat)

TULELAKE - If you travel to this remote valley to see the Tule Lake Segregation Center, you may be disappointed. Driving down a side road, we didn’t know we were looking at what remains of the camp until we noticed a sign visible through a fence topped with barbed wire.

It turns out we weren’t the first to be surprised. In “Tule Lake Revisited,” authors Barbara Takei and Judy Tachibana begin by asking, “How could it be that a place so huge, with such a major impact on so many lives, has vanished?”

More than 18,700 Americans of Japanese descent were imprisoned here during World War II, but when the camp was closed, most of the 7,400 acres was sold and the barracks given to nearby homesteaders.

Old photos show a sprawling installation with long rows of barracks, more than 1,000 in all.

All that remains today is a scruffy piece of land, a battered structure that was the camp stockade and a monument along Highway 139.

We came here to visit areas of California most people never see, and these empty spaces in the state’s northeast corner surely qualify.

Learning about what the government did here inevitably leads to the question: What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Today, about a thousand people live in this valley shoved up against the Oregon border. Seventy years ago, 18,700 prisoners and 1,200 staff members made the Tule Lake internment camp the second largest California city north of San Francisco. (At the time, Santa Rosa had 12,000 residents.)

In a collection of remembrances called “Only What We Could Carry,” here’s how actor George Takei described life at Tule Lake:

“The guard towers were turrets equipped with machine guns. The outer perimeter was patrolled by a half-dozen tanks and armored Jeeps. The guards were battle-ready troops at full battalion strength. All this bristly armament was positioned to keep imprisoned a people who had been goaded into outrage by a government blinded by hysteria. Half of the 18,000 internees in Camp Tule Lake were children like me.”

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