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 (January 1943)
 • Total 7,932

The Jerome War Relocation Center was a Japanese American internment camp located in southeastern Arkansas near the town of Jerome. Open from October 1942 until June 1944,[1] it was the last relocation camp to open and the first to close; at one point it contained as many as 8,497 inhabitants.[1] 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.

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.

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, these two towns were briefly the fifth and sixth largest town in Arkansas. Both camps were served by the same rail line.

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.[2]

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 during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which declared the west coast of the United States a military zone. This allowed for the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans, who were rounded up and placed into concentration camps across the country. 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 consisted of tax-delinquent lands situated in the marshy delta of the Mississippi River's flood plain that had been purchased in the 1930s by the Farm Security Administration. The A. J. Rife Construction Company of Dallas, Texas, built the Jerome Camp at a cost of $4,703,347.

The Jerome camp was divided into 50 housing blocks surrounded by a barbed wire fence, a patrol road, and seven watchtowers. The only entrances were from the main highway on the west and on the back of the camp to the east. The camp was officially declared open, although it was not completely finished, in September 1942. 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. Most had been farmers before the war. 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, and the remainder were "aliens".

The camp was closed in June 1944 and turned into a German Prisoner of War Camp. Upon closing, camp residents were sent to other camps including Heart Mountain, Gila River, Granada, and Rohwer.

Camp life and social clubs[edit]

Camp residents spent the day working at farming, the saw mill, or making soap. The houses were small and provided little insulation. Sometimes several families would share a one room home 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 of 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 Relocation 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.

An adult education class at the Jerome Center

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.

Registration and the Nisei Combat Team[edit]

During the internment process, many of the Nisei (second generation Japanese American citizens) residents were asked to register for the armed forces and to fill out loyalty questionnaires. The first step in this process was to ask for volunteers who would be interested in joining the 442d Regimental Combat Team (Nisei). The 442d would be an Army unit consisting entirely of Japanese American citizens.

Col. Scobey, executive to the Assistant Secretary of War, visited Jerome on March 4, 1943 to persuade the internees to register, volunteer for the 442d, and fill out the loyalty questionnaire. 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 say that the Nesei were not loyal American citizens.

Only 31 people out of an eligible 1,579 volunteered for the 442d. Thirty percent of residents were classed disloyal. 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 get more people to volunteer. It was 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) and be in tune with the philosophy of the "ideal America".

The lack of volunteers for the 442d was partly blamed on the timing: it was presented at the same time as the call for camp internees to register and fill out the loyalty questionnaire. Some riots ensued that also had origins in changes in working hours and an increase in prices at the canteen.

Mitsuho Kimura was one of six members of a committee for evacuees who conferred with Director Paul Taylor that they would protest against the War Relocation Authority Evacuee Registration Program. Kimura was characterized by a Naval Intelligence informant as a "very dangerous type of individual". Kimura was born in Hawaii in 1919 and attended high school in Japan from 1932 to 1935. He returned to Hawaii in 1935 and remained there until January 1943. He stated that he was loyal to Japan before Pearl Harbor, and that his loyalty to Japan had increased after Pearl Harbor. He said that he would not fight in the United States Army under any conditions, but would readily fight in the Japanese Army against the United States. He organized group meetings at Jerome among other Japanese patriots. 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.

The final report of registration at Jerome stated that out of the 5,802 that were eligible 5,798 registered.

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


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.