8 November 2012

At Rohwer, Leaving a Mark on the Delta Soil

posted by UALR

A Tour of the Japanese American Relocation Center in Rohwer

My colleagues and I traveled to Desha County on Monday, Nov. 5, to visit the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center. Tamisha Cheatham, the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity program coordinator and a student in the UALR Master of Public History program, invited the institute staff to join her at the site. Cheatham secured a $250,000 grant from the National Park Services last year to help restore the site’s cemetery.

It was bittersweet to see the cemetery still in existence though in disrepair. And seeing the smokestack in the distance that once towered over the buildings constructed to house the internees was surreal. Approximately 60 years ago Americans were forced here, survived the best they could, and left their mark on the Delta soil.

A Tour of the Japanese American Relocation Center in RohwerArkansas State University’s Arkansas Heritage Sites program completed an interpretive project earlier this year that includes an audio tour guide for visitors narrated by actor George Takei, most famous for his role on Star Trek. Takei lived at the Rohwer Relocation Center with his family in 1942.

I think it is important for Arkansans to have a visual reminder about this important time in our history, a time of war – a time when hysteria combined with prejudice denied many citizens their rights.

It is a part of our history- Arkansas, the nation, and our fellow citizens.

Jessica Yamane, an institute intern from the Northeastern University’s School of Law Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, was glad she got to visit the site before returning to Boston.

Yamane said, “Our trip spoke to me on a personal level about interracial solidarity. I observed the thoughtfulness of my co-workers as we learned about the history of Japanese American incarceration. The fluid ways in which the United States government has criminalized different bodies of color at different times in this nation’s history is frightening, yet it has also provided a foundation for coalition building between people of color based upon our lived experiences.”

Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center

The Rohwer site is part of the Arkansas Delta Byways tourism region and is worth a visit. (See Map for Directions)

5 Responses to “At Rohwer, Leaving a Mark on the Delta Soil”

  1. Paula Miles says:

    Donna, thanks for a great blog. I work for Dr. Hawkins, and we got the interprestive grant for the exhibits. We can’t wait for UALR to start on the preservation of the headstones and the landscape. It is a great project and one that UALR and ASU should be proud to be a part of. I know I am.

    Paula Miles, Assistant Director of Arkansas Heritage Sites
    Executive Secretary, Arkansas Delta Byways

  2. Pat McDermott Scavo says:

    I lived in McGehee and Arkansas City – in both those places our family lived in houses provided by the School Boards……and they were re-furbished surplus from Rowher – I have always been interested in the history…..the house in Arkansas City is still being used as I am sure other structures are scattered about the County.
    I think one of those buildings could be a part of the site.

    I also would like to know if there is a Museum site being planned in downtown McGehee ?
    Thanks

  3. Donna Shelton says:

    Hello Paula, thank you. And yes we are extremely excited about the preservation work to be done. It is history that should be protected and shared. Again, great job on the work!

  4. Donna Shelton says:

    Pat, it is very interesting that you actually lived in one of the houses. The city of McGehee is indeed working on establishing a museum in honor of the former Japanese Americans incarcerated there during WWII. Here is an article written about it here:
    http://pacificcitizen.org/news/community/town-mcgehee-arkansas-determined-build-jeromerohwer-internment-museum.

    BTW, I think the idea about using houses from the site is a great one. Thanks, Donna

  5. This was such a wonderful post and a little heartbreaking. We do not tend to remember things like this until we see them face to face. Thank you for this reminder.

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