After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, General DeWitt forced Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes and businesses. Two-thirds of those incarcerated without due process were native born Americans.
While permanent camps were being built in desolate areas away from the west coast, Japanese Americans were sent to temporary facilities like the Fresno Assembly Center located at the fairgrounds.
Occupied from May 6 to October 30, 1942, it held a total of 5,344 internees, most of them from the central San Joaquin Valley. Over 100 barracks served by six sets of communal buildings were located within the infield of the fairgrounds racetrack, and four contiguous blocks with 20 barracks each were located adjacent to the fairgrounds where the parking lot at Butler and Cedar is now located.
Most of those held at the Fresno center were sent to the concentration camps at Jerome and Rohwer War Relocation Centers in Arkansas and to Gila River and Poston War Relocation Centers located on Native American reservations in Arizona.
On February 19, 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, a memorial and state historical landmark were dedicated on the site near the Chance Avenue gate of the fairgrounds. The original California Registered Historical Landmark No. 934 marker is now in a prominent location in the new Memorial.
When the Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial was completed in 2009, the Big Fresno Fair Board of Directors approached the Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial Project Committee to upgrade the Fresno Assembly Center Memorial at the Fairgrounds. The committee was redesignated the Fresno Assembly Center Memorial Upgrade Committee headed by Judge Dale Ikeda.
Storyboards illustrated with photos and comments by former Valley internees and their families tell about the local Japanese American community that was interned. Most information was gathered first-hand from former internees or taken from written materials in the words of former internees. The theme of these storyboards is "Our Stories". Banners featuring photos from the era educate visitors about the historical significance of the site. The names of the Fresno Assembly Center Internees are also listed on a Wall of Names.
The new Memorial plaza was formally dedicated on October 5, 2011 at a ceremony held on the opening day of The Big Fresno Fair. Funding for the Fresno Assembly Center Memorial was provided by a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and by contributions from Friends of the Fresno District Fair, Fresno County Office of Education, Sun-Maid Growers of California and others. Individual donors sponsored hundreds of commemorative bricks that line the perimeter of the Memorial.
A new phase is underway to create a bronze Wall of Names and additional storyboards. The memorial is scheduled to be rededicated on October 3, 2012, on the opening day of The Big Fresno Fair.