Japenese Incarceration Camps in WWII Arkansas

By: 
Gretchen Ritchey
Editor

On Monday, February 4, 2019, Kim Sanders, curator at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies presented Japanese American Incarceration in World War II in Arkansas.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the government to forcibly remove 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the Pacific Coast and Hawaii and be relocated to relocation centers in areas declared as military zones.
Anyone with foreign enemy ancestry that was living in the those areas listed in 9066 were among those forcibly removed.
Arkansas was home to two internment/relocation camps, Rohwer Relocation Center in Desha County and Jerome Relocation Center in Drew and Chicot counties.
Rosaline Santine Gould spent much of her life dedicated to preserving the story and physical remains of the Rohwer Relocation Center. When the camps were closed many of the residents there could only take a few items with them. Many left artwork with art teacher Mabel Rose Jamison Vogel, known as Miss Jamie.
Vogal and Gould were introduced at a reunion of the camp. Vogal gave Gould the artwork from the camp students, which have since been donated to the Butler Center at UA Little Rock.
Prior to Japanese Americans being removed and forced into internment camps they settled on the West Coast, but were not welcome.
Many Americans protested anyone of Asian decent. Media also publicized dehumanizing content in newspapers.
Yellow Peril also know as Yellow Terror was a common belief that anyone with Asian decent, yellow tinted skin were bad.
Japanese Americans arrived in America in the 1900s to fill jobs.
Sanders said that the United States intelligence agency determined in 1941 that Japanese Americans were loyal to the U.S. and did not pose any threat, nearly two years after World War II had began in 1939.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, leaving a devastation after the surprise attack. This was the action that changed Americans view of the Japanese. The mass hysteria felt among Americans promoted the president to sign Executive Order 9066 of 1942. Sanders stated that on his death bed, President Roosevelt stated that he regretted signing 9066.
Sanders showed images of the internment camps in Arkansas. She said 60 percent of people were American citizens because they had been born in the U.S.
In March of 1942, the government began the forcible removal of Japanese Americans. Although, given the opportunity to leave the U.S. many chose to stay because they had been raised as Americans.
Sanders described the camps accommodations as a 20’x20’ building for each family, with a wood burning stove for heat. Meals were served in a mess hall.
Sanders showed images of the camp’s citizens enjoying life outdoors in gardens, making art and going to school. “Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they moved on with life,” said Sanders.
She explained that the camps were like small towns, usually around 8,000 people in the camp. Razor wire and fencing were placed around the camp, along with watch towers with armed guards.
Sanders said that in 1943, those in the camp were asked loyalty questions, if they wanted to become a U.S. citizen. Anyone over the age of 18 was asked “Will you serve in the U.S. Military?” and “Will you swear allegiance to the United States and give up loyalty to Japan?” Sanders said, because most of the people who were asked the question had no loyalty to Japan, because the United States was all they knew so they declined to give up loyalty to Japan, as they had none.
Soon Japanese Americans were allowed in the military and enlisted in the 442nd Regiment Combat Team. Sanders said this team surprisingly became one of the strongest combat teams.
In June of 1944, the Jerome Camp was one of the first camps to close. All camps were closed when the war ended in 1945. Japanese Americans living in the camps were told they could leave and start over again. Sanders said a vast majority of them returned to the West Coast.
Sanders said, when September 11, 2001, happened people in the United States were in fear and there was talk of putting Muslims in camps.
The land the camps were located on was owned by the government. Sanders said some scholars believe that the government expected to need concentration camps in the future.
After the camps were closed, many German POWs were housed in the camps.
The town of McGhee’s historic train station has been turned into a Japanese American museum.
For more information about Japanese Americans or the Butler Center visit risingabove.cast.uark.edu or www.butlercenter.org.
Sanders told the audience, “We learn from history, so we don’t repeat it.”

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