(Photo by Shirley Nakao, courtesy of the Korematsu Institute)
BRTC will host a special event focusing on the World War II Japanese American camps in southeast Arkansas in recognition of ‘Fred Korematsu Day’ on Wednesday, January 30. The event, which is open to the public, will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Community Conference Room of the Gaines Technology Center.
Organized by Dr. Jan Ziegler and Dr. Charlotte Power, the observance will feature a special film screening preview of “Relocation: Arkansas” and will include a presentation by the filmmaker, Vivienne Schiffer of Houston, Texas. Schiffer’s mother, Rosalie Gould, is a former mayor of McGehee, near the site of Rohwer Relocation Center in Desha County. Gould is a longtime advocate and activist in efforts to preserve the two Arkansas camps. She is also known for her tireless efforts to preserve and make available to visitors and researchers a substantial collection of art and other artifacts from the camps.
“I know many people are aware of the Japanese American expulsion from the West Coast and their imprisonment in ten ‘relocation centers,’ including the two in Arkansas, in the wake of Pearl Harbor” said Ziegler. “However, probably only a few people know of the role played by Fred Korematsu, who refused to go to the camps in violation of his constitutional rights. His story is an amazing one,” Ziegler added.
Korematsu’s case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 1944 the Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was justified due to military necessity. However, the case was re-opened some 40 years later after the discovery of key documents showing that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. These documents had been concealed previously from the Supreme Court. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in 1983. This overturn is considered a pivotal moment in civil rights history, according to the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education.
He continued to work to educate people on the importance of speaking up to fight injustice until the time of his death in 2005. Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Bill Clinton in 1998.
“We are looking forward very much to this event,” said Power, BRTC History instructor. “It is especially fitting for my Arkansas History students, because there is this very important Arkansas connection through the camps to this chapter of our nation’s and our state’s history.”
Both Power and Ziegler give high praise to the preview video, which includes footage of Rohwer Relocation Center as it exists today and as it existed when it opened to some 8,500 exiled Japanese Americans in 1942. The preview also includes clips of former President Bill Clinton, Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School, David Strickland, head of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies which now houses the Gould Collection from the camps, and shots of many pieces of art and artifacts in the collection. Especially poignant, Ziegler indicated, are interviews with former internees at the camps.
This is actually a short film previewing a much more detailed documentary film currently under production, according to Ziegler.