Japanese American internment in Arkansas during World War II will be commemorated through two ceremonies in Desha County on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Events include dedication and opening of the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum at 1 p.m. in McGehee, sponsored by the McGehee Industrial Development Foundation, and a 3:30 p.m. unveiling of outdoor exhibits developed through Arkansas State University at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Both projects were initiated through grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Program at the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
Actor George Takei, who portrayed Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, will be a special guest at both events. Takei was interned as a young boy with his family at Rohwer. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe also has been invited to make remarks.
In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government forced Japanese American citizens to leave the West Coast, out of fears for national security. They were imprisoned during the war at ten relocation centers, mostly in western states, with two in Arkansas – at Rohwer just north of McGehee and at Jerome just south of McGehee. These towns were the temporary homes for more than 17,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans.
The new commemorative museum, housed in McGehee’s historic train depot at 100 South Railroad Street, will serve as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center. Opening ceremonies will be followed by a reception and tours of the featured exhibit, “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas,” until 3 p.m.
“Communicating with former internees and their children has been so meaningful and educational,” said Cindy Smith of McGehee, who is coordinating the day’s events and currently serves as chair of the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. “It is a pleasure for the city of McGehee to help preserve this history.”
The outdoor interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer site include a series of kiosks and wayside panels, with audio components narrated by Takei. Researched by students in the Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program at Arkansas State University and designed for the university by the 106 Group of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the exhibits provide a glimpse into the lives of Japanese Americans once interned there. The exhibits will be maintained by Desha County.
“Arkansas State University is grateful to be a partner with so many others in these commemorative efforts,” said Dr. Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at ASU. “This is a painful chapter in our nation’s history that must not be forgotten.”
A National Historic Landmark, the Rohwer site today includes only the Japanese American cemetery and the remains of the camp’s hospital smokestack. Preservation work at the cemetery is expected to begin later this spring under the leadership of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Matching funds and support for the McGehee museum grant were provided by the McGehee Industrial Foundation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Department of Rural Services, Clearwater Paper Corporation, and the Joseph F. Wallace Trust. The featured exhibit, created through the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Public History Program, is on loan from the Delta Cultural Center in Helena.
Matching grant funds for the Rohwer exhibits were provided by Arkansas State University, with support from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Desha County, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.