Raymond R. Best

Name Raymond R. Best
Born October 3 1895
Died August 29 1976
Birth Location Schoolcraft, Michigan

Director of post-segregation Tule Lake and, prior to that, of the Moab and Leupp Isolation Centers .

Raymond Rawson Best was born in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, on October 3, 1895, to Clinton D. and Nellie Rawson Best. He grew up in Michigan and Los Angeles, and graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1913 and had no formal education beyond high school. By 1918, he was married and working as a bookkeeper for a Seattle bank, after which he did a year-and-a-half stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, working in the Office of the Assistant Paymaster. After the birth of a son in 1920 and the breakup of his first marriage, he married Nora Land in 1925 and settled in Idaho. Before taking a position with the War Relocation Authority, Best had worked for the Federal Government for over a decade, and was with the Soil Conservation Service in Idaho at the outbreak of World War II. When he joined the War Relocation Authority , his oldest son was in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and he and Nora had two additional school-age sons. [1]

Best's first WRA assignment was as the head of transportation and supply at Manzanar , where he arrived in early June 1942. Credited with reorganizing the motor pool and improving warehouse procedures, Best remained at Manzanar for only around a month before being reassigned to a similar post at Minidoka , where he established what later became the Motor Transport and Maintenance Section. After six months, in January 1943, he was tapped to become the director of the newly established "isolation center" in Moab, Utah, essentially a WRA-run prison for inmates it considered troublesome. After three months, the isolation center moved to Leupp, Arizona, and Best remained director there for three more months until his assignment to Tule Lake at the end of July 1943. See Arthur Hansen's encyclopedia article on Moab/Leupp for various views of Best's time as director of these camps. [2]

With the departure of Harvey M. Coverley as director of Tule Lake at the end of July 1943, Best was named his successor as of August 1. He seemed to make a good first impression with liberal staff members after the antagonistic Coverley, and his first address to the camp population on August 4 seemed to be well received. But whatever honeymoon period he may have enjoyed quickly dissipated with his handling of his first crisis, a farm strike in October after a truck accident killed an inmate farm worker. He first denied permission for a mass funeral for the killed worker, then cut the PA system when inmates organized one anyway. When a farm strike ensured, he refused to recognize the elected inmate negotiating committee and secretly brought in unwitting inmate strike breakers from other WRA camps while firing the entire crew of farm workers. He later maintained the notorious stockade—essentially a prison within a prison where resistance leaders were held in poor conditions without charge or trial—for some nine months. Perhaps learning from his early missteps, he averted a possible crisis after the fatal shooting of an inmate by a guard in May 1944 by allowing a large funeral and giving a memorial address at it. But while he expressed sympathy for Nisei caught up in the mass renunciation of citizenship that occurred at the end of 1945, he was unwilling or unable to stop it. After the fact, he cooperated with attorney Wayne M. Collins 's efforts to aid renunciant families, even contributing money towards their legal defense. Nonetheless, his leadership certainly contributed to the unrest and chaos that evolved over his two-and-a-half years at Tule Lake. [3]

After the war, Best continued in various federal posts for the next fifteen years, highlighted by a stint in Geneva, Italy, in 1948 as director of a program to aid displaced persons in Europe. He later worked for the Bureau of Reclamation based in Fresno, then for the Bureau of Land Management, eventually settling in the Sacramento, California, area before retiring in 1961. He passed away on August 29, 1976. [4]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Collins, Donald E. Native American Aliens: Disloyalty and the Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans During World War II . Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Weglyn, Michi. Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps . New York: William Morrow & Co., 1976. Updated ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.


  1. "Michigan Births, 1867–1902," https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQZK-4X1 ; "Raymond R. Best, United States Census, 1910," https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:ML5K-C4S ; "Application for Equalized Compensation, State of Washington," Feb. 8, 1921, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPRR-T6NM ; "United States Western States Marriage Index," https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XZJH-PML ; "Raymond R. Best, United States Census, 1940," https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VY4Y-HVK ; Michi Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1976; Updated ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 158; Robert Cozzens interview by Rosemary Levenson, November 16, 1970 and April 14 and May 21, 1971, Japanese-American Relocation Reviewed, Volume II: The Internment , (The Earl Warren Oral History Project, Berkeley: Regional Oral History Office, University of California, 1976), p. 12, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft1290031s&brand=calisphere&doc.view=entire_text ; Ray Canton, "Ray R. Best Had Close Call With Detention Camp Mob," The Sacramento Bee , July 2, 1961, Willard E. Schmidt Papers, San Jose State University Department of Special Collections and Archives, California State University Japanese American Digitization Project, https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/6081 . All links accessed on July 27, 2020.
  2. Manzanar Free Press , June 9, 1942, 1; Edwin H. Hooper, "Supply Section," Final Report, Manzanar, Jan. 1946, pp. 2, 4, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records (JAERR) Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O1.05:7, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k63b6684/?brand=oac4 ; George B. McIntyre and Sylvia F. Loving, "Final Report of Motor Transport and Maintenance Section, Minidoka Project,", pp. 1, 3, JAERR BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder P6.00:19, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6dj5nt5/?brand=oac4 , both accessed on July 27, 2020; Arthur A. Hansen, "Moab/Leupp Isolation Centers (detention facility)," Densho Encyclopedia , http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Moab/Leupp_Isolation_Centers_(detention_facility)/ .
  3. Eileen H. Tamura, In Defense of Justice: Joseph Kurihara and the Japanese American Struggle for Equality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 97; Manzanar Free Press , Aug. 4, 1943, 1. For positive assessments after his arrival, see James Sakoda Diary, July 31, 1943, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive (JAERDA), Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.81:13**, http://cdn.calisphere.org/data/13030/c7/k6hx1cc7/files/k6hx1cc7-FID1.pdf ; James Minoru Sakoda, field notes on segregation, pp. 33–41, 60–62, JAERDA BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.91, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/k6jm29bj/?brand=oac4 ; and Robert Henry Billigmeier, "The Caucasian Staff at Tule Lake," JAERDA BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.01, http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b256r20_0001.pdf . Weglyn, Years of Infamy , 159–62, 208–09, 214, 254; Donald Collins, Native American Aliens: Disloyalty and the Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans During World War II (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985) 40–42, 65, 129, 166–68. All links accessed on August 27, 2020.
  4. Canton, "Ray R. Best"; California Death Index, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPXW-XTK , accessed on Aug. 27, 2020.

Last updated Dec. 18, 2020, 11:43 p.m..