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New Exhibition Explores Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas

an image from american dream deferred exhibition

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Butler Center for Arkansas Studies will open its new exhibition, The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas, on Friday, January 13, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. Part of the Butler Center Galleries' 2nd Friday Art Night activities, the opening reception will feature live music by Das Loop and is free and open to the public.

The exhibition uses artwork and documents created during the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans in Arkansas to address themes of identity, community, civil rights, and justice. The American Dream Deferred is the first in a series of four exhibitions that will be presented over a two-year period, each highlighting a different facet of life at the incarceration camps.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the forced removal of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast. The American government deemed this action a matter of "military necessity" although more than two-thirds of these uprooted individuals were loyal American citizens. They were sent to one of ten incarceration centers- called "relocation centers" by the government- where they were to remain for the duration of the war. Two of these camps were located in Arkansas: Rohwer Relocation Center in Desha County and Jerome Relocation Center in Chicot and Drew counties.

This premiere exhibition is comprised of paintings, drawings, and other works of art produced by individuals held at Rohwer and Jerome during World War II. The majority of works in the show are from the Butler Center's Rosalie Santine Gould-Mabel Jamison Vogel Collection, donated by Mrs. Gould, of McGehee, who became the caretaker of the collection after the death of her friend Mrs. Vogel, who taught art in the high school at the camp.

In addition to works of art, this collection also includes documents from the center, such as autobiographies written by high school students living at Rohwer. The collection is also noteworthy because the camp sent several hundred men to Europe as part of the U.S. Army's famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which many authorities believe is the most highly decorated American combat unit of World War II.

"This collection is a testament to the perseverance of American citizens in the face of a truly unfortunate wartime situation, but it's also an incredible expression of friendship and determination to help preserve the history of the camp," said David Stricklin, director of the Butler Center. "We are deeply honored that Mrs. Gould has chosen to place the documents and the art with us and look forward to sharing them with the people of Arkansas and many others."

The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas will be on display from January 13 through June 24, 2017, in the Butler Center's Concordia Hall gallery.

Butler Center Galleries are free and open to the public. For more information about current exhibits, programs, and resources, visit butlercenter.org or call 501.320.5700.

This project was funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program.