President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the military to designate “military zones.” General John L. DeWitt subsequently issued “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry” on March 2, 1942. The instructions, posted in prominent places throughout the Japanese American community, indicated where and when the Issei and Nisei (Japanese immigrants and first generation American citizens of Japanese ancestry) were to report with their belongings. Many Issei had their bank accounts and assets frozen, and even those who wanted to move to a non-military zone at that point could not afford to do so. Those who were being forcibly removed were given just a few days or a couple of weeks to sell their belongings, close their businesses and homes and report to “assembly centers.”
“ASSEMBLY CENTERS”: A RUDE AWAKENING
Unprepared for the mass removal of 120,000 men, women, and children, the U.S. Government looked for large sites that could be converted to secured facilities. Seventeen makeshift detention facilities, which became known as “assembly centers,” were converted from racetracks and fairgrounds. These sites were rarely fit for human use, putting the incarcerees in former horse stalls and hastily constructed shacks. Even Army experts conceded that conditions were “not up to the Army’s standards of cleanliness.”
Most of the incarcerees who lived at Heart Mountain were originally sent to facilities at the Santa Anita Racetrack, the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, or the Livestock Exposition Pavilion in Portland, Oregon. They faced a cadre of soldiers as they arrived. Those forced into “assembly centers” were there for three to four months until more permanent facilities were established by the War Relocation Authority.
Today, the barracks area of the “Pomona Assembly Center” is used as the midway for fairs and other events and for parking.
Look at the Heart Mountain roster on our Digital Resources page to see which assembly center each family lived at before arriving in Wyoming.