Legendary photographer Ansel Adams visited a Japanese internment camp in 1943, here’s what he saw

In 1943, Ansel Adams set out to document life inside the Japanese-American internment camp at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. It was a departure for Adams, who at the time was known as a landscape photographer and not for social-documentary work. When Adams offered this collection of images to the Library of Congress, he said, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his five-paragraph Executive Order No. 9066, “Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.”

The order further stated: “I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.” The Supreme Court upheld the order and the subsequent deportation and incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Within a month, a 50- to 60-mile-wide swath of the Western coast was designated as Military Area No. 2. It extended from Washington down through California and into parts of Arizona. More than 110,000 residents of this area were given only days to sell off their farms, businesses, homes and other possessions before being shipped off to internment camp barracks around the United States. Although the law extended to other ethnic groups as well, it was primarily applied to Japanese Americans.

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