Jerome War Relocation Center

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Jerome War Relocation Center
Detainee camp
fifty plain long wooden buildings interlaced with roads
Jerome War Relocation Center, 1942
Jerome War Relocation Center is located in Arkansas
Jerome War Relocation Center
Jerome War Relocation Center
Location of the camp in the state of Arkansas
Coordinates: 33°24′42″N 91°27′40″W / 33.41167°N 91.46111°W / 33.41167; -91.46111Coordinates: 33°24′42″N 91°27′40″W / 33.41167°N 91.46111°W / 33.41167; -91.46111
Country United States
State Arkansas
Opened 1942
Closed 1944
Founded by War Relocation Authority
Population (February 1943)
 • Total 8,497

The Jerome War Relocation Center was a Japanese American internment camp located in southeastern Arkansas near the town of Jerome. Open from October 6, 1942 until June 30, 1944, it was the last relocation camp to open and the first to close, and at one point it held as many as 8,497 inhabitants.[1][2] After closing, it was converted into a holding camp for German prisoners of war.[1] Today, there are few remains of the camp still visible, the most prominent being the smokestack from the hospital incinerator.

Jerome is located 30 miles (48.3 km) southwest of the Rohwer War Relocation Center,[1] Due to the large number of Japanese Americans detained there, these two camps were briefly the fifth and sixth largest towns in Arkansas. Both camps were served by the same rail line.

A 10-foot (3.0 m) high granite monument marks the camp location and history. The marker is located on US Highway 165, at County Road 210, approximately 8 miles south of Dermott, Arkansas.

On December 21, 2006 President George W. Bush signed H.R. 1492 into law guaranteeing $38,000,000 in federal money to restore the Jerome relocation center along with nine other former Japanese internment camps.[3]

The 2004 PBS documentary film Time of Fear outlines this history of the camp and the similar camp in nearby Rohwer, Arkansas.

History of the camp[edit]

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the United States into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized military leaders to declare the West Coast a military zone from which persons who posed a threat to security could be excluded. This allowed for the "evacuation" of 120,000 Japanese Americans, who were rounded up and placed into concentration camps isolated in the country's interior. The Jerome War Relocation Camp was located in Southeast Arkansas in Chicot and Drew Counties. It was one of two relocation centers in Arkansas, the other being at Rohwer, 27 miles (43 km) north of Jerome. The Jerome site was situated on 10,054 acres (4,069 ha) of tax-delinquent land in the marshy delta of the Mississippi River's flood plain that had been purchased in the 1930s by the Farm Security Administration. Despite initial resistance from then-Governor Homer Adkins — who only agreed to allow the camp after exacting a guarantee that the Japanese American inmates would be watched by armed white guards and removed from the state at the end of the war — the War Relocation Authority acquired the land in 1942.[2] The A. J. Rife Construction Company of Dallas, Texas, working under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers, built the Jerome camp at a cost of $4,703,347.

Jerome was divided into 50 blocks surrounded by a barbed wire fence, a patrol road, and seven watchtowers. Administrative and community spaces such as schools, offices and the hospital were separate from the 36 residential blocks, which each consisted of twelve barracks divided into several "apartments" in addition to communal dining and sanitary facilities. Approximately 250-300 individuals lived in each block.[2] The only entrances were from the main highway on the west and at the back of the camp to the east. The camp was not finished when its first inmates began to arrive from California assembly centers, and these early arrivals worked to complete construction.[2] It was the last center to open and the first to close, and was only in operation for 634 days—the fewest number of days of any of the relocation camps.

Jerome Relocation Center, 1944

The constant movement of camp populations makes completely accurate statistics difficult. As of January 1943, the camp had a population of 7,932 people, and the following month Jerome reached its peak at nearly 8,500. Most had lived in Los Angeles or farmed in and around Fresno and Sacramento before the war, but some ten percent of Jerome's population came from Hawai'i.[2] Fourteen percent were over the age of sixty, and there were 2,483 school age children in the camp, thirty-one percent of the total population. Thirty-nine percent of the residents were under the age of nineteen. Sixty-six percent were American citizens, having been born in the United States. The Issei, or first-generation, parents and grandparents of these children, who were prohibited from obtaining citizenship along with other East Asians, were officially referred to as "aliens."

The camp was closed at the end of June 1944 and turned into a German prisoner of war camp called Camp Dermott. Many inmates had already been transferred to the Tule Lake camp in California and, upon closing, most of the remaining camp residents were sent to Rohwer and Gila River.[2]

Camp life and social clubs[edit]

An adult education class at the Jerome Center

Camp residents spent the day working at farming, the saw mill, or making soap. The barracks were small and provided little insulation. Sometimes several families would share a one-room apartment that did not provide enough room for even one family. Project Director Paul A. Taylor warned residents that leaving the camp without permission and trespassing on private property were punishable offenses.

Having thousands of people live in such close proximity to each other caused sickness and disease on several occasions. In January 1944, a case of influenza spread throughout the camp for several months. The hospital at Jerome was acknowledged as the best equipped and best staffed of any WRA center, and provided enough medical assistance to alleviate most health problems.

Social and culture clubs were formed by residents of the relocation center. The Jovial Peppers was a group of girls, ages 9 to 12. The Phi Beta Society consisted of a group of young women whose main purpose was improving their cultural background. Other clubs included Cub Scouts and the Double X's. Recreation and sports were very popular. Sports consisted of basketball, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, and volleyball. Basketball drew the most attention from sports lovers. In one match noted as an "annihilation", the Shamrocks defeated the commandos 19-2. Frank Horiuchi got credit for the lone basket on the losing side.

Art classes and piano lessons were offered. Adult education classes included English, sewing, drafting, flower arrangement, commercial law, photography and art. Dances and movies were frequently available.

Resistance to military enlistment and the loyalty questionnaire[edit]

Page 4 of the infamous loyalty questionnaire. Questions 27 and 28 provoked the majority of opposition, but others, such as the prompt to list member organizations and magazine subscriptions pictured here, were also viewed as a thinly veiled attempt to assess whether inmates were "true" Americans. (Densho, Ikeda Collection)

As at the other WRA camps, many of the Nisei (second-generation, American-born) residents were asked to volunteer for the armed forces and all adults were required to submit to an assessment of their loyalty to the United States. Pressure to join the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team was somewhat higher at Jerome and Rohwer, which were much closer to the unit's training facilities at Camp Shelby, Mississippi and became popular destinations for 442nd soldiers on leave. Col. Scobey, executive to the Assistant Secretary of War, visited Jerome on March 4, 1943 to persuade eligible internees to enlist in the 442nd. He gave a speech, stating that the War Department was in effect presenting the 442d as a test of loyalty, and if response was poor, the public would believe the Nisei were not loyal Americans.

The so-called "loyalty questionnaire" met with resistance in Jerome (and elsewhere) largely because of its last two questions, which asked if men would be willing to serve in the military and if all respondents would disavow their allegiance to Japan. Many were confused by the questions' wording, unsure if an affirmative answer to the second would be taken as an admission of previous disloyalty. Others, especially among the citizen Nisei, were offended by the implication that they were somehow un-American yet ought to risk their lives for a country that had imprisoned them.[4] Due to an earlier dispute with administration over working conditions in Jerome and the death of an inmate in an on-the-job accident, tensions in camp were already high, and in separate incidents on March 6, 1943, two men seen as administration collaborators were beaten. Jerome inmates subsequently gave negative or qualified responses to the question regarding Japanese allegiance at a higher rate than at any other WRA camp.[2]

Mitsuho Kimura was one of six members of a committee of inmates who conferred with Director Paul Taylor that they would protest the WRA's Evacuee Registration Program (the official name of the loyalty assessment program). Kimura, who was born in Hawai'i in 1919 and attended high school in Japan from 1932 to 1935 before returning to the U.S. territory, was characterized by a Naval Intelligence informant as a "very dangerous type of individual." He stated that he was loyal to Japan before Pearl Harbor, and that his loyalty to Japan had increased after Pearl Harbor. He asserted that he would not fight in the U.S. Army under any conditions but would readily fight in the Japanese Army against the United States, and organized group meetings at Jerome with other pro-Japanese inmates. The committee refused to register because they were loyal to Japan. 781 evacuees in the group registered by writing across the face of the registration form that they wanted to be repatriated or expatriated to Japan.

Only 31 people, or two percent of an eligible 1,579 volunteered for the 442nd, and thirty percent of Jerome residents were ultimately classified as disloyal. The lack of volunteers for the 442d was partly blamed on timing, as it was presented at the same time as the call for camp residents to fill out the unpopular loyalty questionnaire, and Paul A. Taylor highly praised the 31 volunteers, saying they deserved respect and had demonstrated their loyalty. An article by Galen M. Fisher was written in the Denson Tribune in an attempt to persuade more to volunteer, titled "What a Person Outside is Thinking." It said that refusal to cooperate would poison the public mind and prove the disloyalty of the detainees. On the other hand, he stated that cooperation would hamstring the Fair Play committee (a draft resistors' organization in Heart Mountain) and be in tune with the philosophy of the "ideal America." The 2,247 who had given unfavorable responses to the loyalty questionnaire were transferred to Tule Lake, which had recently been converted into a segregated camp for "disloyal" Japanese Americans.[2]

Leave clearance at Jerome[edit]

Camp residents were allowed to leave the camp with permission to pursue jobs. However, many did not want to leave without the guarantees of food and a place to stay. Another drawback to was that the process of getting a leave clearance was slow, causing some to lose interest. The draft and registration processes also complicated getting a leave clearance.

Camp closing[edit]

The Jerome Relocation Camp closed in June 1944 and was converted into a holding camp for German prisoners of war. Today there are few remains of the camp standing, the most prominent being the smokestack from the hospital incinerator. A 10 foot high granite monument marks the camp location and gives details of its history.

The Jerome Relocation Center was in operation for a total of 634 days which was the fewest of any of the relocation camps. Although the registration process caused riots and trouble in the camp, the Denson Tribune reported on June 11, 1944 that the "camp was free from juvenile delinquency (...) young girls and boys are well-behaved, well disciplined, well-trained, well-taught, and well led. Rowdyism, pranks, swearing, petty theft and juvenile vices are practically nil." There were no reports of vandalism. This contrasts with poorer results in some of the other camps.

Once the camp was closed the remaining residents were transferred. Heart Mountain received 507 residents, Gila River received 2,055, Granada received 514 and Rowher received 2,522.

Notable Jerome internees[edit]

See also[edit]

Media related to Jerome War Relocation Center at Wikimedia Commons

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation "Japanese-American Internment Sites Preservation", a report from the National Park Service.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Niiya, Brian. "Jerome," Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  3. ^ "H.R. 1492". 
  4. ^ Lyon, Cherstin M. "Loyalty questionnaire," Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 August 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bearden, Russell. "Life inside Arkansas: Japanese American Relocation Centers". Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 48. 1989 169-196.
  • Burton, Jeffrey F.; Farrell, Mary M.; Lord, Florence B.; Lord, Richard W. Confinement and Ethnicity An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Tucson, Arizona: Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1999. 149-160.
  • Friedlander, E.J. "Freedom of Press behind Barbed Wire: Paul Yokota and the Jerome Relocation Center Newspaper". Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 44. 1985: 303-313.
  • Howard, John. "John Yoshido in Arkansas, 1943." Southern Spaces, 2 October 2008.
  • Kim, Kristine. Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2000.
  • McVoy, Edgar C. "Social Process in the War Relocation Center". Social Forces, 22. December 1943: 188-190.
  • Niiya, Brian. "Jerome," Densho Encyclopedia, 2014.
  • Tsukamoto, Mary and Pinkerton, Elizabeth. We the People: A Story of Internment in America. San Jose: Laguna Publishers, 1987.
  • Wakida, Patricia. "Denson Tribune (newspaper)," 2014.