“Don’t let your memories fade . . .”
—Advertisement for Tulsa Clinical Research,
Tulsa World, May 5, 2014
“The two most engaging powers of an author are
to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
—Samuel Johnson, quoted in Today’s Cryptoquote,
Tulsa World, May 5, 2014
In this post and the next one, I will offer updates on past subjects and events discussed in my blog that relate to the months of April and May.
As indicated by its title, this first post in that two-part series marks three such events, each one the subject of a previous post on my blog:
First, the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum in my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, an event that originally took place on April 16, 2013.
Second, an update on the book titled Camp Nine, a historical novel based on the relocation camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, near McGehee, which I reviewed a year ago.
Third, a report on the progress of the planned documentary on the relocation camps in Arkansas titled Relocation, Arkansas, with two introductory videos featuring Star Trek actor George Tekai, who was detained in one of those camps as a child.
First Anniversary of Opening of WWII
Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum
“The anniversary event is not about the museum itself, but about the people and families who were affected by the camps.”
—Susan Gallion, curator of the WWII
On April 2, 2014, the McGehee Times published a front-page article titled “Museum grows as anniversary nears.”
That article referred to plans to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, which took place on April 16, 2014. It noted that the museum, “also known as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretative and Visitor Center, officially opened its doors inside the walls of the south building of the downtown railroad depot.”
The Times article went on to note that several hundred people, many of whom were directly affected by the interment, gathered for the opening and dedication. Since that time more than 2,200 others have visited the museum which “serves as the permanent home for the exhibit ‘Against Their Will, The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas.’
“The exhibit tells the story of life inside the internment camps in Rohwer and Jerome where more than 17,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during the war.”
According to the article, “A number of historical items and publications have been donated to the museum since its opening, including a collection of publications from the War Relocation Authority during WWII. An archivist from Drury University donated the publications to the museum, all related to the evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.
“In addition to the new publications, visitors at the April 16th anniversary [had] a chance to view the artwork of renowned artist, Nancy Chikaraishi. The college professor’s father was a Rohwer internee and her works [will be] on display for several weeks after the celebration.”
At the end of the article was a piece of art work by Nancy Chikaraishi. It featured a quote from her father on a banner at the museum, which will be on display soon. It had to do with the rigid racial segregation of the era and area:
“I got on the bus and my first decision I
had to make outside of camp was ‘Where
do I sit? The white people sat in the front
of the bus. The blacks were in the back,
‘And so I got on and I thought, ‘Gee, I
don’t know where should I sit?’ So I said,
‘Gee, we were confined so long and we
were discriminated so much that maybe
I’ll be considered black,’ so I went to and
I sat in the black area. The bus driver
stopped the bus and he says, ‘Hey, you
gotta sit in the front.’ So I got up and
moved, but I didn’t come way to the front
either, I sat right by the dividing line.”
Ben Tsutomu Chikaraishi,
“This museum has been good for me,” states Susan Gallion, the museum curator, who says that she will never stop learning from it. “Not a day goes by that I don’t see something different [in it], learn something new [from it].”
Later, on April 23, 2014, another McGehee Times article was published titled “Internees return for museum anniversary.”
In that updated article the personal stories and experiences of several of the Japanese-Americans or their children or relatives interned in the camps at Rohwer and Jerome were presented.
One internee was born in the camp before it closed in 1944. “Having the museum means a lot to us,” she stated. “This place will touch many lives.”
Another internee was too young to remember what life was like for herself and her parents while incarcerated along with nearly 130,000 other Japanese-Americans in ten such camps throughout the Western United States. The two camps near McGehee were the only two in the South. Together they held more than 17,000 Japanese-Americans against their will.
Another family, detained at the camp in Jerome, were among the many “who returned to the area to mark the first anniversary of the museum.”
Another young Japanese-American was born four years after her family was released from the camps. Her uncle was killed in action during the war in France as a member of the U.S. Army 442nd Infantry, one of the units in which the Japanese-Americans from the camps served with distinction.
Nancy Chikaraishi, mentioned above in the first article on the museum anniversary, is a professor at Drury University and grew up listening to the stories of her people detained in them. Her artwork depicting those stories is currently on display in the museum where it will remain until July 16.
According to a third article in the April 21, 2014, McGehee Times titled “Local museum to feature works by Missouri artist”:
“Her solo exposition explores her parents’ experience in the Japanese American internment camps. Her artwork includes charcoal drawings, and canvasses painted in both oil and acrylic. She does sculpture as well, but their size makes shipping prohibitive. The art exhibit will be open during regular museum hours.”
The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
“This museum is fantastic opportunity for generations to come to know this story,” she notes.
“Keeping these stories alive is not the only goal of the museum,” state museum officials. “Sharing these stories with the world is equally important.”
Those officials estimate that 2,355 people have visited the museum since its opening a year ago. These visitors have come from four foreign countries and forty-five cities in Arkansas.
“Every day these people bring different stories to us,” museum officials report. “And every day we get emails from more families wanting to share theirs.”
In an address to a group of state leaders in Little Rock, McGehee mayor Jack May stated:
“We met yesterday at the Governor’s office so I got the opportunity to talk about our museum. I talked about the injustices these Japanese-Americans endured. In McGehee, we’d long hoped for a museum to explain that to people. . . .We’re proud of this museum and I was so happy to help spread the word [about it].”
And so I am.
To read more about the opening of the museum, visit my earlier post titled “Opening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum,” published on March 20, 2013.
“I know that Camp Nine was something that should never have been. It destroyed lives and separated families; it interrupted joys and brought, in their stead, wretched sorrows. But the experience was mine, too. On a deeper level than I had ever understood, Camp Nine [like the Delta itself] had defined my life [and the lives of all who have ever lived there].”
—Camp Nine, p. 196
A year ago in my post about the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camps I inserted a link to a book of historical fiction titled Camp Nine about the camp nearest McGehee.
As I noted then, that fictional work was written by Vivienne Gould Schiffer, the daughter of former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould who was instrumental in collecting, preserving, and displaying many of the artifacts from the camps.
In a following post published on April 18, 2013, I presented a review of that book with quotes, photos, and links about it, especially ones that relate to the Arkansas Delta. (To read that post titled “Camp Nine: A Book Review with Quotes about the Arkansas Delta,” click on the title.)
Since it has been a year since that post about Camp Nine I thought I would offer an update on the book which I requested from the author. Here is her response sent to me in an email dated May 4, 2014:
“In connection with Camp Nine being named the 2013 selection for the If All Arkansas Read the Same Book program, I travelled the state in October of last year, presenting at libraries, and I continue to get requests for readings.
“The Arkansas Studies Institute has a fine program for history teachers which they conduct in June, where they teach about specific moments in Arkansas history, then lead teachers on a tour of sites. They have asked me to keynote open their series with a lecture and preview screening in the new Robinson Theatre in downtown Little Rock. I am so excited to be a part! So far, the film [Relocation, Arkansas, see next section] has kept me from making much progress on a follow-up book, sadly.”
On my blog I will continue to offer updates on the book and any subsequent books by the author on the subject of the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas.
“In the post-war rural south, a person could only be one of two things: white or black. For the Japanese Americans [from the relocation camps in Arkansas] who stayed behind, it was necessary to fit into one or the other—and how did they choose?”
—Vivienne Schiffer, author of book Camp Nine
and producer of documentary film Relocation, Arkansas
As noted above, the third section of this post is an update on the film documentary about the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camps in Arkansas being developed by Vivienne Schiffer, the daughter of former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould.
Since it has been a year since my last blog post on this subject, I requested an update on its progress from Vivienne Schiffer. Here below is her response:
“We continue to make great progress on Relocation, Arkansas, now that our major funding is in. We have at least one more filming trip to Arkansas (probably in June) to finish out the fascinating story of the Japanese-Americans who stayed behind in Arkansas after the camp closed.
“That story is interesting on many fronts, but the one that we will likely focus on is this: in the post-war rural South, a person could only be one of two things: white or black. For the Japanese-Americans who stayed behind, it was necessary to fit into one or the other—and how did they choose? [See the quote of Nancy Chikaraishi’s father on this subject earlier in this post.]
“The community chose for them that they would be white. We intend to explore that decision and how it impacted their lives in the civil rights era that followed. This story will intersect with our other stories—the impact of the incarceration experience on the generation that was born after camp, the sansei; and how their loss of identity leads them to return to the scene of their parents’ and grandparents’ deep pain: Rohwer and Jerome, and the one person they’ve heard they must meet: former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould. The film will also explore how Mayor Gould became a legend in the Japanese-American community.
“I had been invited to attend the PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] annual meeting in San Francisco in the middle of May, but it appears now that that trip may be in jeopardy.
“But my co-producing partner, the Center for Asian American Media, will be there to meet with the PBS team to discuss whether or not they want to officially become involved with our film. Even if they don’t contribute funds, we remain hopeful for a PBS broadcast in 2015.”
Videos on the Japanese-American Relocation Camps
To view a very moving twelve-minute preview video of the film titled Relocation Arkansas, about the Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas, especially the one at Rohwer near McGehee, click here. This trailer for the full documentary was made two years ago. It features scenes of the flat Arkansas Delta, the cotton fields and cypress sloughs that surrounded the camp, and comments from Japanese-Americans who were confined there, as well as Arkansans Bill Clinton, former U.S. president and governor of Arkansas; officials of the programs and efforts to preserve the camps’ history; and Rosalie Gould, former mayor of McGehee, who was instrumental in preserving the artifacts of the camp and reviving interest in preserving them and the memory of the camps and their internees.
To view a similar but updated video trailer with the same title made in 2014, click here.
To view a seven-minute video interview with Japanese-American actor George Takei about his experience at the Rohwer camp and why he and his family were later sent to an even more restrictive camp in California as “enemy aliens,” click here.
To view a similar interview with George Tekai titled “Allegiance,” click here.
Addendum: Blogger’s Note
Coincidentally, this post marks the third anniversary of this blog titled “My Oklahomian Exile Literature by an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant,” which was officially launched on May 12, 2011, with a post titled “My Story Begins.”
It also marks the first post to be published after the blog had produced more than 60,000 visits during that three-year period, an average of 20,000 visits per year or about 500-plus visits per post.
Rachel Denton Freeze, “Museum grows as anniversary nears,” McGehee Times, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Used with permission.
Rachel Denton Freeze, “Internees return for museum anniversary,” McGehee Times, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Used with permission.
Author unknown, “Local museum to feature works by Missouri artist,” McGehee Times, April 23, 2014.