Conscience and the Constitution


Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site

by Nicole Branton and Pete Taylor
October 21, 1999

4th Edition

Please send comments or suggestions to:

Mary Farrell, Forest Archaeologist
Coronado National Forest
300 W. Congress St.
Tucson, AZ 85701

(520) 670-4564

E-mail: farrell_mary/


Why Put a Prison on a Mountain?

In the early 20th century, the only road to Mt. Lemmon began at the town of Oracle and traveled up the north face of the mountain. Construction of the Mt. Lemmon Highway, a much shorter route from Tucson, began in 1933. To cut costs, prisoners supplied most of the labor, and a "Federal Honor Camp" was built here in 1939 to replace the temporary prison camps along the route.

At first, prisoners had only picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows to use. "Before I went to the Honor Camp, I thought prisoners only broke rocks with picks in cartoons," one former prisoner recalls. Roadwork progressed faster when jackhammers, bulldozers, and tractors were brought in.

A Prison Without Bars

There were no fences or guard towers at the camp: a painted white line marked the camp boundary. Prisoners lived in wooden barracks near the creek. Besides constructing the highway, prisoners built the rock walls and poured the foundations for administration buildings and the guards’ quarters and grew much of their own food at a farm located near the base of the mountain.

After the Mt. Lemmon Highway was completed, the prison site hosted a series of youth rehabilitation camps until it closed in 1973. The buildings were removed in the 1970s, and today the ``prison camp'' is one of many recreation sites maintained along the Mt. Lemmon Highway by the Coronado National Forest.

Who were the Prisoners?

Some prisoners had been convicted of breaking tax or immigration laws. Many had refused to join the military for moral or religious reasons. These conscientious objectors included Hopi Indians from northern Arizona and Jehovah's Witnesses. Some of the prisoners were citizens protesting the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.


Japanese American Relocation during World War II

After the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, nervous U.S. officials and political leaders were afraid that Americans of Japanese descent would plan espionage and sabotage along the West Coast. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military areas from which ``any or all persons may be excluded.''

What followed was the largest forced removal and incarceration in U.S. history. Anyone with 1/16 or more Japanese ancestry had to leave California, western Oregon, western Washington, and southern Arizona. People were given anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to sell off their property and belongings or find someone to watch over them. Homes, farms, fishing boats, and businesses worth billions in today’s dollars were lost, through under-valued sales or outright theft. Some 117,000 people, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were sent to ten internment camps, called "relocation centers," in remote parts of the country. In addition, thousands of Japanese-American community leaders were taken to alien detention centers run by the Department of Justice.

Possible Captions:

Internment Camps were surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers staffed by armed soldiers.

Propaganda to boost America’s fighting spirit fueled racial prejudices.

Who is Gordon Hirabayashi?

Gordon Hirabayashi was a college senior at the University of Washington in Seattle when Japanese Americans were ordered to leave the West Coast. Instead of reporting for internment, Hirabayashi went to the F.B.I. with a prepared statement challenging the constitutionality of both Executive Order 9066 and a curfew imposed on enemy aliens and Japanese American citizens, since both were orders based solely on race or ancestry. He was convicted of violating both the relocation order and the curfew. Hirabayashi's case was appealed and eventually was heard by the Supreme Court. After Hirabayashi spent several months in a county jail, the Supreme Court upheld his convictions.

Hirabayashi requested that his sentences be extended so that he would qualify to serve the rest of his sentences at an outdoor prison work camp. The government didn’t want to pay his way to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp, so Hirabayashi hitchhiked to Tucson, stopping to visit his family in Idaho along the way. When he arrived in Tucson, he had to convince the Federal Marshal that he was indeed to be incarcerated. Hirabayashi went to a movie while waiting for the Marshal to find his papers.

Righting A Wrong

Forty years after Hirabayashi's original conviction, law historian Peter Irons discovered papers showing that the Justice Department had withheld from the court evidence that the forced removal was unnecessary. Hirabayashi's case was reopened, and in 1987, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Hirabayashi's conviction. A Federal Commission determined that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was motivated by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and failed political leadership. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged injustice and apologized for the internment.

Hirabayashi has said that the passage of the Civil Liberties Act demonstrates the resilience of the U.S. Constitution. ``This is a great Constitution, but if it doesn't serve you during a crisis, what good is it? We faltered once, but to show how good our Constitution is, we were able to apologize and acknowledge an error, and we're going to be stronger for it.'' Hirabayashi also said, ``If you forget about it, you're more vulnerable to having it repeated, and we don't want to have this ever happen to any citizen again.''


Fighting for Freedom:

Japanese Americans in the Military

Early in the war, Japanese Americans were classified as ``unsuitable for service because of race or ancestry.'' In 1943 the government lifted the prohibition against Japanese Americans enlisting in the military and soon they were declared eligible for the draft.

Over 20,000 Japanese Americans fought for the United States during World War II. The Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion saw action in Italy and earned the title ``the Purple Heart Battalion'' after the battle of Cassino. In 1944, they were incorporated into the newly formed 442nd Combat Team. The combined unit continued fighting in Italy, France and Germany. The unit became one of the most decorated regiments in U.S. history, with over 18,000 individual decorations and over 9,000 casualties.

Over 6,000 Japanese Americans also served in the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific. They were assigned to Army, Navy and Marine units as well as Allied units and participated in every major battle and invasion in the Pacific Theater. Japanese American women served as nurses for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the Red Cross. Internees also performed work essential to the war effort, manufacturing military supplies and working in agriculture.

A Citizen's Dilemma

More than 300 of the internees refused to be drafted into the military until their constitutional rights as citizens were restored. The resisters did not object to the draft, in itself, but hoped that by defying the conscription orders they would clarify their citizenship status. If they were to share in the rights and duties of citizens, why did the government forcibly incarcerate them and their families? If their loyalty was in question, why were they being drafted?

Their protest had little effect: the resisters were convicted of draft evasion and served two to three years in federal prisons. Over forty of the resisters were sent to the Federal Honor Camp in leg irons and handcuffs, under armed guard.

The draft resisters were pardoned in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman. However, the questions of whether citizens must ``prove'' loyalty when their rights have been revoked, and how citizens can best stand up for civil rights, have still not been resolved.

Caption: Families left behind in internment camps erected Honor Rolls listing the names of their relatives serving in the military.

For the troops review photo: General Mark Clark reviews Japanese American troops in the Italian campaign.

For camouflage net photo: Japanese American internees making camouflage nets at the Manzanar Relocation Center.

For the ``Tucsonian'' photo: The Japanese-Americans imprisoned at the Honor Camp during World War II called themselves the ``Tucsonians.'' This picture was taken at their first reunion, held in 1947 in Sacramento, California.


Updated: November 2, 1999

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