Individuals appointed by War Relocation Authority (WRA) camp administrators to carry out bureaucratic tasks in each block and to be its liaison. Block managers were chosen based on their leadership capabilities, willingness to do the job, and perceived "loyalty." Despite their status as "aliens ineligible to citizenship," many Issei were chosen as block managers given their prewar status and bilingual ability, though many managers were Kibei or Nisei as well. Block managers were generally paid staff positions, albeit at meager WRA wages.
Their duties included such tasks as the distribution of supplies and materials such as lumber, light bulbs, cleaning supplies and the like; handling incoming and outgoing mail; general maintenance and appearance of the block; and communication of block concerns to management, and management dictates to the inmates. In some cases, block managers also presided over block councils, informal bodies consisting of representatives from the various barracks within a block. In some camps, block managers also met regularly as a group. Later in the war, some camps allowed block managers to be elected.
Depending on the camp and the block, block managers could be seen as powerful figures, administration lackeys, or a combination of both. Writer and playwright Hiroshi Kashiwagi, appointed a block manager at Tule Lake, looked back and reflected that "... the block managers had little or no voice in the scheme of things. The Administration's primary interest was to see that the block managers clearly understood their directives that they would then convey to the residents. In that sense, the block manager was not much more than a messenger and a convenient tool of the Administration.." In some cases where distrust of camp administration was high, block manager positions could be difficult to fill.
For More Information
Cates, Rita Takahashi. "Comparative Administration and Management of Five War Relocation Authority Camps: America's Incarceration of Persons of Japanese Descent during World War II." PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1980.
Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
McVoy, Edgar C. "Social Process in the War Relocation Center." Social Forces 22 (Dec. 1943): 188–90.
Spicer, Edward H., Asael T. Hansen, Katharine Luomala, and Marvin K. Opler. Impounded People: Japanese Americans in the Relocation Centers. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969.
Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
- The makeup of the block managers varied greatly from camp to camp. While Issei and Kibei predominated at Manzanar, block managers at Heart Mountain were all Nisei. For Manzanar, see Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 110; for Heart Mountain, see Rita Takahashi Cates, "Comparative Administration and Management of Five War Relocation Authority Camps: America's Incarceration of Persons of Japanese Descent during World War II" (PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1980), p. 376.
- Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Swimming in the American: A Memoir and Selected Writings (San Mateo, Calif.: Asian American Curriculum Project, 2005), 96.