Manzanar National Historic Site is preparing to open a new interpretive exhibit and to conduct more interviews with former internees, camp staff and local residents.
Paying for the new features at the historic site is the Friends of Manzanar, which recently received $58,833 in grant money from the National Park Service.
According to Manzanar Chief of Interpretation Alisa Lynch, staff will utilize the grant money to review archives and find information to put on display at the newly refurbished mess hall.
“There is a lot of stuff that exists in the archives that we’ve hardly had a chance to tap,” Lynch said. “We’re basically going to dig into that stuff. The War Relocation Authority kept extensive documentation that we can use.”
The new mess hall exhibit will be on display by the end of January, and will include information on the Dec. 6, 1942 Manzanar Riot, which, Lynch said, began with a dispute in the mess halls.
According to Lynch, the riot “was bigger than just the mess halls, but it all began with a debate about the distribution of sugar.”
She said that staff at Manzanar will be able to review records kept by the War Relocation Authority to gather information for the new exhibit. Those records include everything from documentation of how much food was distributed to each mess hall, daily reports from camp staff and information about internees.
The grant will also provide staff at Manzanar with resources to continue the site’s oral history program.
The oral history program allows historians and staff at Manzanar to interview people who had first-hand experience at the interment camp, from Japanese Americans who were forced to live there, to military police officers who guarded the gates, to local residents who worked with and for internees.
The oral histories are recorded onto CDs and DVDs, with older inclusions recorded on cassette. Many histories are available online at www.densho.org , with more still available at the Manzanar Interpretive Center.
Currently, Lynch said Manzanar has between 600 and 800 hours of oral histories recorded, but, as the World War II generation ages, historians are hoping to get many more.
“It’s not a situation where you ever have enough,” Lynch said. “We never know who is still out there and what stories they have to tell.”
The oral histories are used as research tools, and to improve interpretive displays by using quotes and anecdotes from the people who experienced life at Manzanar.
The National Park Services has up to $38 million in grant money available for research, protection, restoration and interpretation of historic confinement sites.
Each year similar former interment camps across the country have the opportunity to apply for the grant money.
With the 2010 grant cycle money going towards the mess hall and oral histories, members of the Friends of Manzanar are now looking to the 2011 grant cycle.
Applications for this year’s grant money will be due in March, and will be awarded later in the year.