On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed the wartime emergency bill: Executive Order 9066. Within days the United States government began preparations under the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to assemble and send all persons of Japanese ancestry to internment centers. Table 10 lists the ten sites authorized as wartime relocation centers for Japanese-Americans and Figure 2 shows a geographical view of each relocation center.
This mass evacuation involved some 110,000 men, women, and children, and represented the entire Japanese-American population of the three Pacific Coast states: California, Oregon, and Washington. Also evacuated were approximately 1500 from Hawaii. In fact, the evacuation involved ninety percent of all Japanese-Americans residing in the continental United States. Ironically, this included a large number of American citizensNisei born in the United States. Evacuees living near militarily sensitive areas such as military zones or harbors, were forced to leave their homes on short notice with nothing but meager personal belongings.
On March 2, 1942, people were permitted to leave the designated zones of their own free will, provided they moved to the Eastern states. Only 5,396 people out of 110,231 left of their own volition, for most had no relatives or friends on whom they could depend in the Eastern states.
Two families from the Los Angeles Church did leave for Chicago during this period, and became the foundation for the church there. Unfortunately, due to the short notice given for this free will evacuation, most people lacked adequate opportunity to plan for their departure. This group included some members who planned to go Utah and build a new church there.
After March 27, 1942, the Wartime Civil Control Administration, under the authority of the Western Defense Command, began relocating those who resided on the West Coast. Free movement to the Eastern states was prohibited two days later. The Government established fifteen temporary assembly centersmany of which were racetracks like Santa Anitauntil more permanent relocation centers were built. The Los Angeles Church members were one group that was assigned to Santa Anita. Transported by army buses, church members gathered together at each assembly center with fear and uneasiness. Although worried about an uncertain future, as time passed, they began to feel that even in such a place God was with them. Lester Suzuki described one such blessing as follows:
The only bonafide Japanese Methodist Conference in Methodist history or American history was held on July 2, 1942. With Bishop James Chamberlain Baker presiding, it took place within the boundaries of a concentration camp. It was truly an historic conference (Suzuki 1977:41).
As a general rule the vast majority of denominations pooled their resources to form a united church within each assembly center. However, in some cases, such as Santa Anita, the Holiness Church held separate services. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church also continued to hold separate services in both the assembly centers and relocation camps. Suzuki described the United Church activities in Santa Anita:
The Santa Anita Assembly Center Protestant Church (Federated) can claim to have the largest weekly attendance for Japanese ethnic services in America, running as high as 2,000 for the English language service, and 1,000 for the Japanese service. In the Santa Anita Assembly Center, Nisei ministers took turns conducting federated services, which were well attended. The churches were a stabilizing factor in an unstable society (Suzuki 1977:41).
In many centers, excellent choirs were organized, among these were Tulare, Merced, and Santa Anita. In Tulare, the Christians and the Buddhists cooperated by holding joint music programs and even joint worship.
As the relocation centers were opened, people were transferred to them from the assembly centers. The majority of the Los Angeles Church members were sent to Amache in Colorado. The Kuzuhara, Yahiro, Kuroda, and Hashimoto families went to Amache, while most of those who lived in downtown Los Angeles were sent to Manzanar. However, some members were sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming or as far as Rohwer in Arkansas. It took seven months to send the evacuees to the various relocation centers; by that time it was the Christmas season of 1942.