Visit the stone remnants of a WWII prison camp named after Gordon Hirabayashi,the Japanese American from Seattle who served his violation of curfew conviction there, from 1943 to 1945. It can be reached by driving up the Catalina Highway in Tucson heading to Mt. Lemmon, and just beyond the 7 mile marker, turn left to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site in the Coronado National Forest.
Here’s a photo of Gordon as a young man in 1942,as a Senior at the University of Washington when he challenged the relocation order of E.O. 9066 & violated the curfew in Seattle. He was turned himself into the F.B.I., was convicted, and appealed all the way to U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, but his conviction was upheld at that time. (see Hirabayashi vs. U.S. 320 U.S. 81 (1943). Because the Federal Attorney did not want to pay his way to the Federal Prison Camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona, Hirabayashi hitchhiked from Seattle, saw his family in an internment camp in Idaho, and arrived in Tucson where he had to convince the Federal Marshall to imprison him.
In 1987 his case was re-opened and and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (which I as a legislative aide helped U.S. Senator Inouye create) investigated the mass WWII Japanese American internment and determined that it had been caused by “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria & failed political leadership”. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, apologizing for the relocation/internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, 2/3 of whom were U.S. Citizens, on American soil.
Above is a photo of the map of the Catalina Federal Prison Camp. The prisoners laborers built 24 miles of road (the Catalina Hwy) through Coronado National Forest, completed in 1951. The prisoners housed there were convicted of breaking federal immigration or tax laws, most were conscientious objectors, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hopi Indians and Japanese Americans (about 40) protesting their relocation & draft. Many resisted the draft because their families were at the same time in the 10 large W.R.A. internment camps. (These resisters were later pardoned by President Harry Truman in 1947).
In 1999 the Coronado National Forest named the recreation site after its most famous inmate Gordon Hirabayashi (who later earned a Ph.D in Sociology). Interpretive signs (see photo below) were installed in 2001. See National Forest’s website (click here) for more photos of Dr. Hirabayashi and the prison camp itself, which existed from 1937 to 1973.
Mary Farrell, a Forest Heritage Program Leader & Tribal Liaison for the Coronado National Forest has given lectures at Agua Caliente Park and elsewhere, about this prison camp. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 520-388-8391.
During a recent visit my husband and I walked along the paths and riverbed of the former prison camp, trying to imagine the life of the federal prisoners in that remote, but picturesque area. There are numerous concrete slab building platforms and walls still remaining, and stone abutments along the riverbed. It is a somber remembrance of the injustice done to my people (including my father), fitting on Labor Day 2010 (today).
The present site is suitable for picnicking, hiking, camping, mountain biking, bird watching…and reflecting.