During World War II, the America government would remove families from their homes and relocate them to internment camps in the interior of the nation. The U.S. government forcibly moved thousands of the nation’s Japanese residents; many were U.S. citizens, to the interior of the nation for the duration of the war once the U.S. became involved. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set up the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to move over 100,000 people to ten camps. Two of the camps would be built in the Arkansas Delta.
The two camps in Arkansas were the Rohwer, in Desha county, and Jerome located in parts of Chicot and Drew counties. Around 16,000 people were held in the camps. This would be the largest racial or ethnic incarceration in state history. There were some stipulations for the site’s selection. It had to be on federally owned land and away from important locations in the country. Rohwer and Jerome were both surrounded by barbed wire or thick woods with guard towers. The Residential Buildings in the complexes did not have running water and were heated by wood burning stoves.
Rohwer’s peak population at the camp was 8,475. The camp was open from September 1942 until November 1945. Within the camps, individuals were divided into groups based on their ties to Japan. Jerome was open from October 1942 until June of 1944. The camp was open the shortest amount of any of the ten camps. Almost 8,000 people lived at the site with all involved in some type of agricultural labor.
There was resentment felt among locals who lived outside of the camp. It was not all related to racial issues. Although, once state politicians got involved, race would play an important role. The resentment by many of the poor residents of the Arkansas Delta was because the camps had things they did not, electricity is one example. The fact that Japanese-Americans were living in Arkansas scared many of the state’s politicians prompting them to make many horrible and untrue accusations aimed at the camp and those living with in it. The governor of Arkansas at the time opposed allowing residents of the camps, upon their closure, to go to college in the state for fear that it would promote integration within Arkansas. Aside from the University of the Ozarks in 1945, no university within the state would admit a Japanese resident or Japanese-American citizen. In 1943, the state of Arkansas would ban all Japanese, either American citizens or aliens, from buying property in the state. This law would later be found unconstitutional.
By the end of World War II, over 300 men from the camps would join the military through the forced loyalty and draft program. Many of the men were divided over whether or not they wanted to fight for a nation that held them and their families as prisoners in order to prove their support for the U.S. in the war.
In April of 2013, the American Internment Museum opened in McGehee, Arkansas. McGehee is located between the sites of the two camp’s locations. All that is left of the sites is a cemetery at the Rohwer site that is on the list of National Historic Places.
“Japanese American Relocation Camps – Encyclopedia of Arkansas.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2273 (accessed July 13, 2013).
Pris. “Opening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum – Arkansas Ties.” Arkansas Ties. http://www.arkansasties.com/WhatsNew/2013/03/opening-of-wwii-japanese-american-internment-camps-museum/ (accessed July 14, 2013).