|US Gov Name||Jerome Relocation Center|
|Facility Type||Concentration Camp|
|Administrative Agency||War Relocation Authority|
|Location||Denson, Arkansas (33.3833 lat, -91.4667 lng)|
|Date Opened||October 6, 1942|
|Date Closed||June 30, 1944|
|Population Description||Held people from Los Angeles, Fresno, and Sacramento, California; also held people from Honolulu, Hawaii.|
|General Description||Located in the Mississippi River delta region 12 miles west of the Mississippi River, 18 miles south of McGehee, 120 miles southeast of Little Rock. The 10,000-acre area was impoverished and consisted of heavily wooded swampland. It was 27 miles south of the Rohwer concentration camp. Summers were hot and humid, with chiggers, mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes.|
|Peak Population||8,497 (1943-02-11)|
|National Park Service Info|
The euphemistically named "Jerome Relocation Center" in Arkansas was one of ten concentration camps administered by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the West Coast during World War II. Along with the nearby Rohwer camp, Jerome was the easternmost of the WRA camps, and they were the only ones located in the Jim Crow South. The last of the WRA camps to open and the first to close, Jerome was in operation for less than two years.
The Jerome site is located in southeastern Arkansas, in Drew and Chicot Counties, eight miles south of the town of Dermott and about 120 miles southeast of Little Rock. It was also just 27 miles from the Rohwer camp. The camp was also known as Denson (and the camp newspaper was called the Denson Tribune), after the official post office designation for the camp. Heavily forested and swampy marshland that was part of the Mississippi River flood plain, the land had been purchased by the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s from tax delinquent landowners who had been unable to clear and drain it. Largely abandoned subsequently, the WRA acquired the 10,054 acre parcel in 1942. Supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers, the A. J. Rife Construction Company was contracted to build the camp at cost of $4.7 million.
Due in part to the arduous labor required to clear and drain the site, the camp was late to open and was still largely unfinished when the first inmates began to arrive from the Santa Anita and Fresno Assembly Centers. As at many of the other camps, these early arrivals set to work finishing the building of their own prisons.
Arkansas Governor Homer Adkins, a former Ku Klux Klan member, opposed the building of the camp in his state and agreed only after being assured by WRA Director Milton Eisenhower that the incarcerated Japanese Americans would be held under armed guard by white guards and that they would be removed from the state after the war. Adkins supported unsuccessful legislation that would have barred Asian Americans—including American citizens—from owning land and successfully banned Japanese Americans from leaving camp for work in the state or from attending any of the colleges in the state.
Camp Geography, Population, and Administration
The main residential area of the camp consisted of about 500 acres (about one square mile) that were surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers. As with other camps, the inmates were housed in "apartments" that were partitioned sections of 20' by 120' barracks. The barracks were arranged in groups of twelve that were called "blocks," with each block housing between 250 and 300 individuals. Each of the 36 residential blocks had communal showers, toilets, and laundry facilities along with a mess hall. Camp wide institutions such as schools, hospitals, and administrative offices were located in barracks set aside for that purpose. External security—including manning the guard towers—was provided by the army's 329th Military Police Company; internal security was handled by WRA's police force, consisting of five white administrators and around 50 unarmed inmates.
Jerome was located in a heavily forested and swampy area prone to humid weather, heavy rains, mud, and the fauna typically found in such locales, including various types of poisonous snakes and mosquitoes. The snakes sometimes ended up on the menu. ("They said that it tastes like chicken," reported one former inmate.) More seriously, the conditions led to major medical problems. In the winter of 1943, 888 cases of influenza were reported at Jerome out of total of 2,197 cases in all of the camps. Jerome inmates also reported a handful of cases of malaria and typhoid fever, which resulted in the institution of immunization and mosquito control programs.
Jerome's population came mostly from California, both urbanites from the Los Angeles area and country denizens from the Central Valley. Jerome was also the only WRA camp to have a significant population from Hawai'i, mostly family members of men who had been interned in Justice Department and army camps. This group made up roughly 10% of the camp population and is often blamed for the unrest and resistance that took place there.
The WRA mostly assigned local bureaucrats to the top administrative positions at Jerome. Camp Director Paul A. Taylor was from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and had worked for the Department of Agriculture. At age 34 when he took the job, he was the youngest of the WRA camp directors. Arkansas-based federal employees William O. "Doc" Melton and James H. Wells were named director of operations and head of administrative management, respectively, while Runo E. Arne, a former faculty member at Louisiana State University, was the chief of community management. Local lawyer Ulys A. Lovell was the project attorney and Arkansas Gazette reporter Charles R. Lynn was the reports officer.
Life in Camp: Eating, Sleeping, Learning, and Playing
Life was communal and regimented. Meals were taken in mess halls at designated times, disturbing traditional family units as children and adults alike soon took to eating with friends and peers rather than family. Privacy was scarce, both in the communal toilets that lacked dividers and in the barracks themselves where the partitions between "apartments" did not go all the way to the roof. Within each "apartment," families were issued a cot, mattress, and blankets which were illuminated by a single light bulb. Other furniture would have to be constructed by the inmates out of scrap lumber; as a result, scrap lumber—and even nails—became cherished items. (See Arts and crafts in camp.)
Ever conscious of not being perceived as "coddling" the inmates, the WRA made sure that they spent less on inmate meals than the forty-five cents per person per day allotted for American soldiers, averaging thirty-seven cents for the inmates. (WRA staff at Jerome were allotted 52 cents per person per day.) Food rations were augmented by agricultural cultivation at the camp. For various reasons, Jerome's production of 150,000 pounds of agricultural product in 1943 fell far short of the production at Rohwer. Over 1,200 hogs were also raised at Jerome for consumption at the camp.
One of the ways that inmates were able to augment their diets—as well as acquire other goods and services not provided by the authorities—was through the establishment of the Jerome Cooperative Enterprises. Run by the inmates with the cooperation of the WRA, the co-op was a non-profit operation that ran camp dry goods stores, dry cleaning, beauty salons, movie screenings and much more, even publishing their own newsletter, the Co-op News. Sales reached $50,000 per month by the spring of 1943. Profits were put into a trust fund and distributed back to members. The best selling items in the stores included soft drinks, potato chips, and candy, while outerwear was the most popular mail order item.
As at other camps, a high percentage of the population was made up of school-age children, and K–12 schools and adult classes were instituted. Jerome's schools didn't open until January 4, 1943, and even then, chairs did not appear for weeks and other supplies and equipment for months. Nonetheless, some 2,061 students attended Jerome's schools, taught by 94 teachers. WRA efforts to hire white teachers from the local community ran into a roadblock when it was discovered that the federal wage scale—due in part to the year round schedule and the arduous conditions at the camp schools—was more than twice the average salary of Arkansas teachers, leading to charges the Arkansas' students would be shortchanged by teachers flocking to teach in the concentration camps. (Their salary was also more than seven times what inmate teachers received.) The WRA agreed to seek permission from a school before approaching teachers and to limiting itself to hiring two teachers from any one school district. Despite the high salaries, Jerome still could not fill its quota of teachers.
Various Christian and Buddhist denominations held services at Jerome. Of all the camps, "Jerome became at center of American Buddhist publishing during the war, under the local leadership of the Young Buddhists' Association (YBA)," according to historian John Howard. In addition to publishing Buddhist literature for that camp, the Jerome YBA send copies to other camps as well. They also published the Denson Buddhist Bulletin.
With time on their hands, various recreational activities took on great importance for Jerome denizens. Sports were a popular activity. Jerome had some 75 baseball and softball teams, some built around prewar communities (including a "Hawaii" team). Many other sports—including such "Japanese" sports as judo and kendo—were practiced there.
The relative proximity of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, starting in May of 1943 introduced another recreational element to the Jerome population. Sports competitions between the men of the 442nd and teams from Jerome and Rohwer took place, with baseball games at the camps playing a key role in easing tensions between the Nisei "Buddhaheads" from Hawai'i and the "kotonks" from the continental U.S. Groups of women at Jerome and Rohwer were also bussed to Camp Shelby (a ten hour bus ride) to take part in what became bi-monthly dances with the Nisei men of the 442nd. The reaction to these dances by the women was mixed, with reports of rough treatment by some of the men on one hand and enjoyment of the skewed gender ratio and the amount of attention each woman received on the other. USO facilities were also set up at Jerome and Rohwer for visiting Nisei troops.
Another form of recreation was to leave the camp. Jerome administrators issued day passes for inmates to visit neighboring towns to shop, for school outings, sporting events, and other purposes. It was also easy to sneak out without a pass to fish or explore the woods. Once out, inmates negotiated the strange world of Jim Crow, being neither white nor black. But dangers also lurked. In one incident, a visiting Nisei GI on his way to visit his incarcerated sister at Jerome was eating at a local cafe, to be shot at by a shotgun toting local farmer who had heard of the "Jap" in town. The soldier escaped with only powder burns to his face.
Employment and Protest
As at other camps, a large percentage of the adult population took on jobs with the WRA helping the camp to operate, whether as mess hall workers, hospital workers, teachers, and the like, on the artificially low WRA wage scale ($12/$16/$19 per month) designed to insure that inmates would never be paid more than soldiers, but creating large inequalities between inmate and white workers doing the same work.
Camp Director Taylor wanted badly for the camp to be self sufficient when it came to energy, refusing to requisition coal, given all the available wood in the local forest. Thus one of the tensions in the camp involved the public works crews engaged in the arduous and dangerous work of felling trees from the surrounding forests for firewood to heat the camp. Workers felt coerced into taking on this work and felt the food and safety measures for the workers were inadequate. Multiple work stoppages took place between November 1942 and October 1943, fueled by working conditions and Taylor's hard line responses. In October 1943, a trailer carrying woodcutters overturned, injuring 37 and killing one man, Haruji Ego. A call for a general strike resulted. Though the strike did not take place, Taylor resigned his position shortly thereafter.
As at the other camps the institution of the "loyalty questionnaire" in early 1943 led to tensions and unrest. On March 6, 1943, JACL leader Thomas Yatabe was beaten up by a group of men. Later that day, Rev. John Yamazaki—who had translated the questionnaire into Japanese—was also attacked. Inmates at Jerome subsequently answered question 28 in a manner other than "yes" at a higher rate than any other camp. With the advent of segregation, some 2,147 from Jerome were sent to Tule Lake "Segregation Center," about one-fourth of the population of Jerome. When Nisei were allowed to volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in April 1943, only 2.1% of eligible Nisei did so, tied with Rohwer for the lowest rate at any camp.
With many of its inmates either sent to Tule Lake or having resettled in areas away from the West Coast, the WRA decided to close down Jerome after less than two years. When the camp closed on June 30, 1944, most of the remaining population was sent to Rohwer or to Gila River, Arizona. The camp later reopened as Camp Dermott, a POW camp that housed captured German soldiers.
Prominent inmates at Jerome included artist Hiroshi Honda, activists Yuri Kochiyama and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, and educator Mary Tsukamoto. Artist Henry Sugimoto painted scenes of life at Rohwer and exhibited some of them at a show at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, in 1944.
After the War
After the war, the Surplus War Property Administration sold off the land to local farmers at public auction for $5 to $10 per acre. The land remains under private ownership and has subsequently been cleared and is currently used for farming. Some features from the concentration camp remain at the site, most notably a smokestack from the hospital boiler house, a concrete reservoir, and numerous concrete slabs. A ten foot tall granite monument with a lengthy inscription was erected at the site in the 1990s.
In 2004, the Japanese American National Museum and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock partnered on the Life Interrupted project, featuring a conference, exhibition, website, and other elements. In 2013, the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum opened in McGehee, Arkansas.
For More Information
Anderson, William C. "Early Reaction in Arkansas to the Relocation of Japanese in the State." Arkansas Historical Quarterly 23 (Autumn 1964): 195-211.
Bearden, Russell. "The False Rumor of Tuesday: Arkansas's Internment of Japanese-Americans." Arkansas Historical Quarterly 41.4 (1982): 327-39.[Brief overview of life at Rohwer and Jerome; the title refers to an administration sponsored celebration of the end of the war on Tuesday, August 14, 1945 which attracted little inmate response.]
———. "Life Inside Arkansas's Japanese-American Relocation Centers." Arkansas Historical Quarterly 68 (Summer 1989): 169-96. [Overview of life at Rohwer and Jerome.]
———. "Jerome Relocation Center" in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Burton, Jeffery F., Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. The Rohwer section of 2000 version accessible online at http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce7a.htm.
Friedlander, E. J. "Freedom of the Press behind Barbed Wire: Paul Yokota and the Jerome Relocation Center Newspaper." Arkansas Historical Quarterly 14.4 (Winter 1985): 3-13. [Study of the Denson Tribune and editor Paul Yokota, citing the lack of censorship it faced and the high quality of the paper.]
Friedlander, Jay. "Journalism Behind Barbed Wire, 1942-1944: An Arkansas Relocation Center Newspaper." Journalism Quarterly 62.2 (Summer 1985): 243-46.
Howard, John. Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Japanese American National Museum. Life Interrupted: Reunion and Remembrance in Arkansas, 2006. [DVD compilation of short videos produced for the 2004 conference in Little Rock.]
"Life Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in WW II Arkansas." http://www.ualr.edu/lifeinterrupted/html/ [Website on the Arkansas camps by the University of Arkansas, Little Rock and the Japanese American National Museum.]
Moss, Dori Felice. "Strangers in their Own Land: A Cultural History of Japanese American Internment Camps in Arkansas 1942–1945." M.A. Thesis, Georgia State University, 2007. Accessible at http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/communication_theses/32/.
Smith, C. Calvin. War and Wartime Changes: The Transformation of Arkansas, 1940-1945. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986. [Includes a chapter on the WRA camps in Arkansas and the local reaction to them.]
Takemoto, Paul Howard. Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. [Based on interviews with the author's father, a Hawai'i Nisei in the 442nd, and mother, a kotonk incarcerated at Jerome.]
Ward, Jason Morgan. "'No Jap Crow': Japanese Americans Encounter the World War II South." The Journal of Southern History 73.1 (Feb. 2007): 75–104.
Yumiba, Carole Katsuko. "The Educational Program at Jerome, Arkansas U.S. War Relocation Center, 1942-1944." Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1971.
__________. "An Educational History of the War Relocation Centers at Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas, 1942-1945." Diss., University of Southern California, 1979.
- Russell Bearden, "Life Inside Arkansas's Japanese-American Relocation Centers," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 68 (Summer 1989), 170; Jason Morgan Ward, "'No Jap Crow': Japanese Americans Encounter the World War II South," The Journal of Southern History 73.1 (Feb. 2007), 80.
- Ward, "'No Jap Crow,'" 81; Patrick G. Williams, "Homer Martin Adkins (1890–1964), The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, accessed on 8/23/12 at http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=84.
- Bearden, "Life Inside," 179.
- Ben Y. Tonooka interview, segment 20 by Martha Nakagawa, Feb. 6, 2012, Los Angeles, California. Densho Digital Repository, denshovh-tben-00020; Bearden, "Life Inside," 192.
- Bearden, "Life Inside," 173–74.
- Bearden, "Life Inside," 184–85; John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 177; Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000), accessed online on 8/24/12 at http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce7a.htm.
- John Howard, Concentration Camps, 73–80; Bearden, "Life Inside," 183.
- Thomas James, Exile Within: The Schooling of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 59; Bearden, "Life Inside," 187–89.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 164–65.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 81–84.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 82–84, 126, 135–40.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 128, 174; Ward, "'No Jap Crow,'" 85.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 177–95.
- Howard, Concentration Camps, 238; Burton, et al., Confinement and Ethnicity.