John Ellington


Name John Ellington
Born December 31 1937
Died May 10 2012
Birth Location Lake Village, Arkansas

Teacher, farmer, and lifetime resident of the area near the Jerome, Arkansas, detention center who was a key figure in the preservation of the camp's site. In his later years he worked with members of the Japanese American community to construct a memorial at the site and often spoke with visitors about the history of the land.

Early Life

John Pickard Ellington was born in December 1937, four years before the United States became embroiled in the Second World War. As a young boy, John Ellington and his family lived only a few miles from the site of the Jerome camp on a piece of property his grandfather had homesteaded in the 1930s.[1] When Executive Order 9066 led to the confinement of Japanese Americans, his grandfather, who was a carpenter, helped build the camp buildings and continued to work on them for the duration of the war.

The young Ellington frequently played with the inhabitants of the camp and many visited with him at his house as well. He got his haircuts from the camp barber and came to know the layout of the camp like the back of his hand. After the war, the structures at Jerome were auctioned off and life in the area returned to normal. Ellington attended Arkansas A&M College and Arkansas State University earning a BSE and Masters Degree before becoming a teacher.

In the late 1950s his family purchased the land on which the camp had existed and Ellington and his brother began clearing much of the forested land for farming. Many of the concrete foundation slabs were buried, and he even remembered burying the pumps of the camp's fuel station. One object that he never cleared, however, was the smoke stack from the hospital building, which he left in the middle of a field so that anyone who returned would recognize it. By 1959, he had purchased most of the land that had once comprised the camp, leased additional nearby acres, and he cared for the land for decades. He was very involved with local farming groups, particularly those that focused on rice and soybeans.

Building a Monument

As an adult, Ellington was well aware of the history relating to the local camps but he faced a lack of interest in the history among locals for many years after the end of the war. When former detainees George Sakaguchi and Sam Yada began to raise awareness of the Arkansas camps, Ellington was a significant part of the process as he spoke at local schools and frequently attended the reunions and pilgrimages when they came to either one of the Arkansas sites. Ellington informed Sakaguchi that he hoped to create a small aluminum sign to mark Jerome, but together they decided to raise funds for a more permanent and official stone memorial. Ellington's interest frequently caused him to reach deep into his own pockets to provide hospitality, information, and, in one instance, bags of rice from his company with a special label describing the history of the Jerome camp. In 1992, his efforts led to the construction of a tall stone monument marking the site of the Jerome WRA Camp along a rural stretch of road on Highway 165 in Chicot County, Arkansas.

He also traveled in his years of involvement with the Japanese American community, and he spoke fondly about the people he met while working to preserve the history of Jerome. He was surprised but honored to discover that many former Jerome detainees were attending the local pilgrimages only when they found out that he would be in attendance. After retirement, he often talked to people that stopped to look at the monument along the highway, and his personal relationship with many former detainees allowed him to relate a number of stories from the wartime camp.

In May 2012 Ellington passed away leaving behind his wife of fifty years, Linda Jackson Ellington, as well as siblings, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.[2] He was humble about his contribution to the preservation of the Japanese American story, though he admits, "I guess I've probably taken more time with [Jerome's visitors] than anyone else."[3]

For More Information

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): 303-13.

"Jerome Communique." Camp Connections. National Park Service, 2002.

Life Interrupted website: http://www.ualr.edu/lifeinterrupted/html/.

Footnotes

  1. Personal information on John Ellington from interview with author, November 15, 2006, Dermot, Arkansas.
  2. John Ellington Obituary, http://www.stephensondearman.com/services.asp?page=odetail&id=600&locid=1.
  3. John Ellington, Interview.